Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Siblings in Need

Had a fun day filming at Shutaf last week, with friend and fellow parent of a kid with special needs, Michael Liben. Michael and I are friends from childhood and the Malverne Jewish Center, where my father was Rabbi for 25 years before retiring in 1992 and making Aliyah to Israel. Michael went to Brandeis High School while I was at Hillel - we shared the bus as the two schools were across from the street each other although they were much farther apart ideologically but that's another story.

Michael and I were looking for a story and that day we decided to follow the Junior Counselors - local teens, ages 15-19, both with disabilities and without. They were having one of their midday meetings and we shot them chatting, laughing and having fun, a blend of energy and happiness - no teen was left out of the discussion and nobody was marginalized because of disability.

After the teens went off back to their groups, we had a brief chat with one teen, Avigail and the Teen Coordinator, Nomi. At first, the camera made everyone a bit stiff until I asked the question of Avigail, 'why do you come to Shutaf?' She gave a positive response 'I love being with kids with special needs.' But I wanted a bit more and Avigail is the older sister of Atara who was at camp with us during the summer. Atara's issues are not insignificant - developmental and physical - so I wondered that Avigail had no sibling fatigue from dealing with kids with disabilities. I asked her about this. She told me that when she goes with her sister to the park or to shul that often she's hurt by how other kids behave to her. She said, 'I go home and I cry.' She also said that 'Atara doesn't understand' but of course, Avigail does and  hurts for herself and her sister's feelings. 

We talked more about this but I was struck by this feeling that Shutaf works for her because it's a place she can let down her hair and not worry about having her feelings hurt - about feeling any sense of humiliation for her sister, her self or for some perceived lack in her family because of her sister's presence. She can love her sister even more because of Shutaf and maybe she can forgive herself for any of the guilt she carries about this mix of feelings percolating around in her head and heart.

Wow. Maybe that's why I like Shutaf too. 

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