They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I say that it takes a village… and a synagogue or three, an edah (Amitzim) and a family camp (Ohr Lanu) at Machaneh Ramah and a loving, supportive family.
On Sunday, October 12, 2014, my son, Jacob Gruen, became a Bar Mitzvah at age 13 at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, CA. He led the Sh’ma, received his talit and blessed it, carried the torah, had an aliyah and read the torah, marched with a lulav and an etrog and said the Kiddush. He also sang a number of songs, including a solo of Adamah B'Shamayim (which he first learned at Camp Ramah) with his Kolot Tikvah choir led by Cantor Michael Stein of Temple Aliyah. To many, this would not seem extraordinary. However, Jacob has autism, which manifests in him as moderate speech and social deficits and academic delays.
Last Wednesday, I headed to family camp with Max for five days. I figured we'd have fun; I had no idea how meaningful our time there would be. It was full of firsts for Max—and the discovery of a whole other kind of holy land.
As a a teen, I was a counselor at two Camp Ramahs in New York and loved it. After I found out that the Ramah in the Poconos had a five-day Tikvah Family Camp for kids with developmental disorders and social learning disorders, I signed us up. (The Ramah Tikvah Network offers family, day and overnight camps at nine locations.)
At a recent Family Camp experience with twenty other young Jewish families, I noticed something that had changed from the previous year's gathering. iPads. This year, they were everywhere. You might think that it was the adults using Apple's slick tablets to read books, check email, or play Angry Birds. But it was actually the youngest of participants who were using the iPad, which could be the most expensive toy for the under 5 demographic.