Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social Justice, Autism, Society and Acceptance: With a Little Politics Thrown In- OK Alot of Politics

This is the beginning of an old post from January 2010. I am repeating it because of the original  post that follows. I have also included a link at the end of the paragraph to the older post so if there is anyone who wants to read The 3 Ds and Your Autistic Child please do. The post deals with the delegitimization of our children and those with disabilities by society. It is a "play" on an article by Natan Sharansky the head of the Jewish Agency about the delegitimization of the State of Israel and the difference between legitimate criticism and anti-Semitic criticism. These two posts in many ways are a complement to each other.

A note to my readers-The following is a political post. If you believe that it is permitted to walk into a pizza parlor in Tel Aviv and blow yourself up, or that is OK to blow up a school bus full of children in Jerusalem or attack a Jewish center in Argentina, Seattle or the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C.; if you think its OK to deface a Jewish cemetery or synagogue, or attack people because they wear the Star of David; if you think that the Holocaust did not happen and call it a war crime to teach the Holocaust to children, or send over 10,000 rockets into civilian areas, while calling for genocide against another 6 million Jews, if you think there is a vast Jewish conspiracy to control the world and that the Jews and/or the United States caused 9/11, if you think that the only nation on the planet that can't defend itself is Israel, if you repeat anti-Semitic blood-libels and and if you think it is OK to behead people in the name of God you are NOT welcome here.(Read the rest of the 3 Ds post here.)

In the annuls of Jewish history the fast day that falls on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz usually passes without notice in the Jewish community accept among the very observant. I have to admit that that is generally the case for me as well. However, I came across an article in the magazine Jewish Ideas that actually caused me to pause. But before I discuss that article, first an understanding of this holiday. The history associated with this fast day commemorates the final sieges of Jerusalem by both the Babylonians and the Romans. It is the precursor holiday to the fast day of Tisha B’Av (July 20) which, after Yom Kippur, is the most solemn day of the Jewish year. Tisha B’Av remembers the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Babylonians and the Romans and the beginning of both the Babylonian and Roman exiles of the Jewish people from their native land.

The interesting part of the article was how some modern day religious Israelis have actually turned such solemn days around and instead of wallowing in the negative of the holiday has turned it into a call for social justice. They call upon people to use this day as a day of reflection and every year they pick a new theme. The theme for this year’s conference is the integration of persons with disabilities into Israeli society. It is interesting because as I sit and reflect upon the boy’s past I can’t tell everyone how unwelcome the boys were in a multitude of Temples and Synagogues from the time collegeman was very small.

I could go back to pre-school where the teacher/principal in this orthodox Jewish setting told me that since I had not come in to talk to them about collegeman in a parent-teacher conference they had decided to just ignore him in class. She even admitted to me at this time that they thought he had an auditory processing disorder. So she was being cruel to not only a three year old but one she knew to be disabled. I pulled him out the next day and wanted to go to the Rabbi but hubby didn’t have the strength for it. His mother was dyeing slowly from metastatic cancer and he just didn’t have the strength of a fight in him.

The next program I put collegeman in was a camp in a reform synagogue (To be specific that grand old reform synagogue that all the wealthy fifth avenue doyens happen to belong to. I suppose if I was a million dollar donor they would have had more patience for my son), where they decided that they didn’t want to deal with his issues and even though some of the counselors found him charming and fun they were nasty and resentful and wouldn’t let those counselors who liked collegeman work with him. I had mistakenly thought that even though they were mean to me they at least would be nice to a small child, especially again, one they knew to be disabled. To be honest I didn’t really know how truly bad it was until one day we were walking down the street and past one of the teachers from camp. Collegeman promptly spit at her. In front of her I told him he did a good thing and kept walking. (OK a little passive aggressive but a well deserved “spit” I think).

My last sojourn into the world of Jewish religious values in New York City was in a conservative synagogue on the Upper East Side. Collegeman attended a summer camp there and had a ball. The counselors were great and very accepting. Collegeman cried when camp ended. Since all the children in the camp attended synagogue there and we were members I called the nursery school to get him registered. I know they had opening for members. They told me they had no spaces left for boys (patently untrue). Needless to say, I canceled my membership.

My next foray into the Jewish religious world was after we had moved out of the city because finally finding out that collegeman was autistic we moved to a school district that would help him. We could not find a Hebrew school that would take him. It was getting close to his bar mitzvah and the temple that we belonged to at the time, the one my in-laws (RIP) were actually founding members of, refused to give him a date because he could not attend Hebrew school. This was the same Temple where the junior Rabbi yelled at the parent of an autistic child (a member of the executive committee who donated extraordinary amount of time to the temple) that those” kids” have no place in Temple.

We had decided, even though there was a huge history at that Temple for my husband (by this time both of his parents had passed away) and the attachment to this religious institution was very great for him (it was where he had become a Bar Mitzvah) that we had to search out a different institution. So I began to call around.

Now living in one of the most densely populated Jewish areas on the planet Earth you would think that this was a good place to try to find a Jewish institution that would Bar Mitzvah my children. Well think again. We didn’t call the Conservative synagogue near us, because they had been nasty to us when I had tried to sign HSB up for nursery school, going so far as to refuse to cash my check and claiming that they never got it. But lo and behold when I withdrew him from the school, the check turned up in the mail.

There was another Reform Temple nearby that told me if collegeman couldn’t attend Hebrew school then not to bother to send him to the Temple. I spoke to the Rabbi at another Temple, who told me that if they relaxed the requirements for my children it would not be fair to anyone else. It really wasn’t as if I was asking that they Bar Mitzvah my children without them having to do the requisite charity, and education requirements. It was just that they needed some help and may not be able to attend classes like everyone else and could they arrange something for them?

I can’t tell you the hostility and total rejection of my children by these organizations that pride themselves on their social agenda and progressive views of the world. I found it totally ironic that some people who follow a religion that talks about “tikkun olam” as a righteous requirement are so unrighteous. TIKKUN OLAM is the commandment that Jews are required to leave the world a better place then when they found it. (for those that don't know, the Ten Commandments are just the beginning for Jews. there are actually 613 commandments we are supposed to follow.) Social justice is our duty. It does not have to be anything major; it can be as simple as helping an old lady cross the street, to discovering the cure for cancer. The problem here is that as long as it was someone else who was taking the time to perform tikkun olam then it was just fine. They did not practice what they preached. It was like supporting wind technology except if it blocks your estate view of the Atlantic Ocean on Martha’s Vineyard.

Finally, however, someone had told me about a Rabbi who sounded like he understood what the Torah was all about. The story goes, an acquaintance was in a car accident, and she was unhurt and sat in her driver’s seat until the police arrived. She closed her eyes. She awakened to a knock on her window and there was her Rabbi. She immediately panicked and though “Oh my God I must be dying they sent for my Rabbi.” Well she wasn’t dying by any means, the Rabbi showed up because he was a volunteer on the ambulance corp and an ambulance is dispatched for every accident. Intriguing I thought. A Rabbi who was invested in the local community as well as his own Temple might just be the person I was looking for. Maybe here I would find a “mensch” (human being). I told them at the Temple what I needed and they made me an appointment with the Rabbi.

Well this man turned out to be a gem. The assistant Rabbi turned out to be a gem. The cantor turned out to be a gem. The Hebrew school principal turned out to be a gem. They not only accepted the boys into the Hebrew school and gave them bar mitzvah dates; they wanted us all to be welcome into the synagogue. They did not require the boys to attend class, but provided them with a private tutor at no extra cost to me. I offered to pay more, but they wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t fair they said that we should be penalized because our children have a disability. So of course, every year that the boys studied we gave an extra monetary gift to the Temple, and one year I created an ethics class and taught it as a volunteer. Unfortunately as far as the class was concerned the children didn’t like it and they stopped the class. To this day, I can honestly say, that these people restored my faith in the nature of people. I have to tell you honestly, these rabbis and I are diametrically opposed practically on quite a number of political issues. But on one we do agree, and that is on the humanity of those with disabilities.

Some may ask is it a good thing to be associated with a religious mentor that you disagree with so vehemently. I answer them, my problem with this Rabbi is that he is too good on some issues and too trusting and too much a believer in koombaya. You would never hear an anti-anything from his pulpit except if it was anti-hate and anti-intolerance (he is the anti Rev. Wright). Every Yom Kippur he leads a Muslim-Jewish dialogue at our Temple. His biggest fault is that he truly believes as Anne Frank did, that all people are inherently good.

Unfortunately it also seems like my experience as far as the Jewish- American community is not unique. In fact it is so bad that the Jerusalem Post actually did an expose on how badly treated and unwelcome are families with autistic children by synagogues and temples throughout this country. It does boggle the mind how ungodly those that profess to love god can actually be at times.

So when I read this article about using this fast day to reflect upon tikkun olam and how this year’s theme in Israel was the integration into society of the disabled, I was so overjoyed. Finally I thought someone does get it, even if those people are half-way around the world.

I also came across another article in the Jerusalem Post about the opening up of an autism research center in Jerusalem. The largest autism research center in the world has just opened in Jerusalem. Their first conference is next week, July 5-6 in Jerusalem. Wish I was there for a variety of reasons.

Just as an aside if you really think that the medical technology that is created in Israel is not shared even with Israel’s enemies, note that the 3-year old daughter of the second in command of Hamas was given life saving heart-surgery in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile her father calls for genocide against the children of Israel. Israel shares her inventions and discoveries with the world. That is why I look forward to the research done at the new Autism Institute, who knows maybe God’s spirit in Jerusalem will help find the answer.

OK Now I Get Political:

While this blog is not political, and anyone and everyone has always been welcome to the information I discuss, and I happily help and give advice to anyone on autism and try to assist their children no matter what,I understand hot button issues. If you don't care don't read further. If you are interested you are welcome. You are also welcome to comment if you wish, but remember disrespectful, racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic comments will not be published so don't try I moderate all comments on this blog. However, I do have my opinion of the situation and since this is my blog I can say what I want.

If you are an asshat and believe the crap coming out of al-Jazeera and the anti-Israel –Left, then there is no hope for you. But if you are interested in beginning to learn the truth of the situation I suggest you watch these videos. Just a small sampling of what Israel has given the world:

Let's not forget Haiti:

And the truth about civilian casualties in the war in Gaza:

The flotilla:

For more information about the history of the area please go to the Council on Foreign Relations (here).

Until next time,