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Join our Most Joyful

02/16/2022 02:27:57 PM

Feb16

Guest Blogger, Cindy Kaplan

You may know our family because of our son, Jadyn, whose presence is noticed most places he goes. Contrary to what you would expect from a guy with Autism, Jadyn is highly social. If he meets you once, he will remember you. When he feels joy, it radiates throughout his whole being. He vocalizes, his hands may flap, his smile beams so large you can see it through his KN95 mask. And there are few places he is more joyful than at CBI, with his buddy Jake, singing along with Sarah Avner and company.

Sarah asked me to write this blog post about the importance of inclusivity at CBI for people with disabilities. I could spin words for miles about this. The commitment to inclusion is certainly what drew us, historically reluctant congregants, to CBI. We are a family that has always felt on the fringe of community, tip toeing in with one foot out the door, ready to leave as soon as we cause a disturbance. At CBI we could set our guard down. The message we were given from the beginning was that we were welcome and valued just the way we were.

CBI walks the talk of inclusion. A special education program at a synagogue is incredibly unique and we were shocked and thrilled to find it here.  This program has allowed Jadyn to participate for the first time in religious school and to make a good friend through temple. For us, that bears repeating: Participate in school! Make a friend! These are not commonplace for Jadyn, but rather tremendous victories. While his IQ is limited due to a rare genetic syndrome and a severely neglected start in life, Jadyn is not without intelligence. Like us all, he is hurt by rejection and being displaced. Like us all, he is lifted by belonging. CBI has lifted him up, and we have been blessed to come along for the ride.

This past fall, Jadyn shattered our glass ceiling of expectation, and became a Bar Mitzvah. He sat by Sarah’s side on the makeshift bimah of Smith Auditorium and sang, prayed, chatted, and danced his way through a full-length Shabbat morning service. The microphone picked up everything: Jadyn’s enthusiastic “Lai Lai’s” in chorus to Mi Chamocha, his self-talk known as “scripting” about cheese and a friend’s dogs (all our minds wander, his just wanders out loud), and frequent check-ins about when the service would be done.  When it was finally time to rise and face the ark, our man of few words turned back to the congregation mid-prayer and proclaimed, “I AM HAVING SUCH A GOOD BAR MITZVAH!” His joy and his pride that morning were unmissable. Even the most stoic of us were in tears.

Yes, I could go on for pages about how being included at CBI has been important for our son and family. I want to save the last few words, however, for why this inclusion is equally important for us - the non-Jadyns in our congregation.

While there are lots of points to be made here, about Jewish values and CBI’s mission, I want to focus on something my raised-secular-turned-observant sister taught me. It has to do with how people with intellectual disabilities are thought to be closer to God, to have purer souls. And while I don’t resonate with much of the orthodox perspective, this makes sense to me.

What can we all do that Jadyn cannot? We can think about complex problems. Yes, this is good. It is also hard and spins us in circles, so busy in our minds that we miss the present moment. We can weigh pros and cons and make judgements, yet we judge far too often and too harshly. We can hold jobs and make money to buy nice things. We all know the problem with that: We get more, we want more. We work hard, we forget how not to work. We prioritize work above connecting with ourselves and our loved ones. We may pray to God for help, but we forget to appreciate the simple blessings around us.

Unless Jadyn is planning for a trip to the park or his favorite burger joint, he rarely misses the present moment. He doesn’t want for anything material. What Jadyn lives for is playing Uno or shooting hoops with friends, swinging at the park, “jamming” on guitars, taking bike rides, eating good food, and streaming “Temple TV” on CBI’s YouTube channel (at least a few hours a day). When Jadyn is doing these favorite things, every atom of his being is in that moment. At once, the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual parts of him align. If you are by his side and pay attention, your atoms will activate in the same way. It is contagious, and it is pure. You can’t help but sniff a bit of God in it.

When we return to gathering in-person at CBI, I hope that you will have the chance to catch joy from Jadyn and others like him in our congregation. I hope you will follow their lead in setting judgement and analytical thinking aside and throw yourself fully into the present moment. I hope that rather than be put off by the distraction of their unexpected noises and movements, you will use it as a reminder to wake up. I hope you will join our most joyful in ditching the ego and belting out your biggest Lai Lai’s at the top of your lungs. Together we will sing until our smiles ache, our hearts stretch wider, our souls shine clearer and we will lift each other up.

 

Tue, August 16 2022 19 Av 5782