Monday, March 17, 2014

Tzedakah or Tikkun Olam, How About Just Being Kind to Families with Special Needs

My latest at Times of Israel

One of the most important aspects of Judaism is our belief in charity, tzedakah. No I am not going to say “Tikkun Olam,” simply because there has been a controversy of late as to what those words actually mean. Growing up I was taught that tikkun olam refers to making the world a better place with acts of random and general kindness. Meanwhile some Torah scholars have written that it actually has more to do with following G-d’s commandments and mitzvote than the modern universalized ideal of “repairing the world.” 

So for arguments sake, and this column, I am simply going to address the basic reality that at some time in our lives we all need that helping hand of human kindness. I am also not going to discuss whether Torah, Talmud or any Jewish book of laws prescribes when is it appropriate to be kind or giving, how that act is to be accomplished and whether we give anonymously or not. I am simply going to explain to you how you could support a family when they are dealing with a person with a special need. How families with fragile members experience the world under certain circumstances and how individuals can help.

The first thing society needs to understand is how these families feel. In my own experience, I would say that the overwhelming experience is one of isolation and separation. You end up being separated from the world at large, mostly because you end up at times not being able to go out into the world at large.  Whether you are dealing with a physically ill child with a life threatening illness or a child with a physical disability or a child with a developmental disability, society is not always an accepting place for those that are different. Oh society today makes “accommodations” for those with physical needs, but it’s the human attitude found in society that needs more work.