Dear Parents and Guardians of Children with Special Needs,
Thank you for sitting down with me and our religious school teachers to walk us through your child’s IEP or 504 Plan.
Thank you for drawing us graphs and diagrams to show us how your child thinks differently than the child sitting next to him/her.
Thank you for calling with reminders about the medications you will packing with your child for the Shabbaton.
Thank you for checking in on your child’s progress, not just with learning Hebrew and Judaic content, but with making friends.
Thank you for emailing ideas about accommodations that can be made to meet your child’s needs at a particular program.
Thank you for always responding to our texts, phone calls, emails, and hallway conversations when we have questions about what we can do better.
Thank you for reminding us when are falling short of meeting your child’s needs.
Thank you for advocating on behalf of your child.
Thank you for being vulnerable enough to trust us with your children.
Thank you for believing what we believe, that your child is an integral part of our community.
We know it’s not easy (although I fully acknowledge that I cannot fully comprehend how difficult it can be).
We know that you spend countless hours working with teachers and administrators (and sometimes, sadly, fighting against them) so that your child can receive the best education that they can have.
We know that you are out there lobbying the government on behalf of the rights your child should be given without question.
We know that you find yourself having to have the same conversations over and over and over again because inclusion is a process in every facet of your child’s life.
We know that participation in Jewish communal life is a deliberate one, a choice among many, and that in order to be a part of this community you likely had to sacrifice something else.
We know that although we try hard, we can do better, and that you know we can do better.
Parents and Guardians, we spend a lot of time asking you what we can do for your child.
But I want to ask you something else.
I want to know what I can do to support you.
I was reading this week’s Torah portion, Beshallach, and I was struck by a piece at the end in light of February being Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM).
You see, in this week’s parshah (portion), Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, across the Sea of Reeds, and into the wilderness.
At times, it was a pretty thankless job. Bringing the Israelites across the sea to freedom meant also watching the Egyptians drown behind them when the walls of the sea ceased to remain split.
Wandering through the wilderness toward freedom also came with the moaning of the people at Moses for lack of food.
The gift of manna also came with the Israelites grumbling at Moses about lack of water.
And then, after Moses brought forth water, Amalek came to battle the Israelites.
Despite his exhaustion, Moses sent Joshua and an army to battle Amalek. As he stood at the top of the hill watching the fighting, Moses raised up his hand, and the Israelites prevailed. But, when he let his hand fall by his side, Amalek prevailed.
Moses could only keep his arms up for so long before they grew heavy. Moses was weary. So Aaron and Hur brought over a rock on which Moses could sit and then they stood on either side of him and held up Moses’ arms until finally Joshua beat the Amalekites.
Parents and guardians, you are Moses.
With every success comes another roadblock.
And the battles themselves are too large for you to handle on your own.
And yet you often find yourself there, raising your arms, body shaking from fatigue.
I want to know what I can do to be Aaron and Hur.
What can I do, not only to support your child, but to support you?
What is the rock upon which you need to rest?
How can I stand beside you and hold up your arm?
I know that you will not relent from fighting the battles.
But I’d like to know what I can do to support you along the way.
Parents and guardians of children with special needs, your children are critical to our community.
But so are you.
Please let me know what you need from us.
And, thank you, again, for all you do.
L’Shalom (In Peace),
Rabbi Rachel Ackerman is the Associate Rabbi of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, MD and has been serving that community since she was ordained in 2011 from Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. There she received her Master of Arts in Jewish Education in 2009 and during that time she wrote her curriculum guide on creating inclusive camp communities. Rachel was a participant in the DC cohort of the Matan Institute and serves as the Vice Chair of the Washington Education Directors Council.