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February 19, 2012

A Month, A Year and Hugo

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/a_month_a_year_and_hugo_20120218/

I’m coming up on the first anniversary of this blog on March 1st, when I first posted “An Unplanned Journey” with the encouragement of Rob Eshman and support from the technical wizards of JewishJournal.com. Life is easier when someone else builds the template.

When I first started writing the blog in March, 2011, it was hard to know where it would end up – a variation of the many “Mommy” blogs in cyberspace, providing weekly updates on the high and low points of parenting a child with developmental disabilities; an outlet to rant about the bureaucratic idiocy of LAUSD; or a place to cajole, embarrass, and prod the Jewish community into doing more for persons with special needs.

As it turns out, the blog has been all of the above, plus some Jewish holidays, many mentions of Danny’s favorite song “Macarena” and a trip to the White House in which I asked President Obama why he doesn’t have a cat. (I still think this would be a good move to gain the Independent voters in November).

Since 2007, February has been designated Jewish Disability Awareness month nationally, and renamed in Los Angeles as the Inclusion Awareness Month, with an incredible number of great events taking place. Last Wednesday night I was honored to moderate a panel of families who had appeared in the HBO special, “Autism: The Musical” at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum and I marveled at the wide spectrum of participants, from secular to black hat Orthodox, all able to join together to laugh and to cry while watching this moving 2006 documentary. And it’s not late to attend an upcoming event at http://www.jewishla.org/pages/iam

I realized later that as much as I am loving all the awareness raising and events, there is something marginalizing about having to squeeze all that attention into just one month (and a short month at that). Turns out I’m not alone in having mixed feelings about an assigned month. Since 1976, February has been designated Black History Month by every US President, and is also observed in Canada and the UK. Along with all the special films, books and TV specials that occur in February are a group of critics including actor Morgan Freeman who once said in a TV interview, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

I have to agree with the sentiment behind that quote—I don’t want the Jewish community to only pay attention to the needs of Jews with special needs one month a year, when we are living with those needs 24/7, all year round. We need day school educators to get up to speed on the best practices in special education, rabbis who have the patience to teach Torah to non-Mensa members and congregants who are comfortable with kids or adults who may need to walk around in circles by themselves in the back of the shul.

And most of all, we need to find value with every human being, even those who may appear to be “broken” in some way. In the movie Hugo, the young protagonist, who was taught how to fix clocks by his deceased father, talks about broken machines that are unhappy and want to be fixed. He wonders if this can also apply to people, and (spoiler alert) he helps to create a happy ending by “fixing” one particular older man. By welcoming in people who have special needs into the Jewish community all year round with spiritual, emotional and financial support, we can together “fix”  the problem of exclusion and instead, create wholeness and completeness.

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