September 23, 2019

Warm Stones, Many Wishes

We ended our Special Needs Study Mission by placing our collective wishes and hopes in the time-worn cracks of the large stones of the Kotel (Western Wall). Over on the crowded women’s side, the young woman with autism who was part of our delegation had a very interesting observation. “You know,” she said, “stones are usually cold when you touch them, but these stones are warm.”

I inched my way to the front, holding my folded-up note tight in my sweaty hand. I thought about friends and family in need of physical healing, of the safety and happiness of our daughter and also the unknown future for our son with significant developmental disabilities. In all of our 13 site visits over the past five days, we hadn’t really seen a young adult with his particular constellation of strengths and challenges. Where will he live after he moves out? What will he do with his days that is meaningful, fun and part of the larger society?

As the sun was setting to the west, casting a yellowish-light reflecting off of all that Jersualem stone, women of every age, shape and religious orientation were praying fervently all around me. Some came with their own siddurs (prayer book), and others with eyes closed, praying what was in the heart. It seemed that everyone had a special plea, an extra request, a personal favor to ask of God. There were literally hundreds of prayers being directed into that sacred space all at the same time.Perhaps all that human striving was somehow being transmuted into energy that radiated off of the stones, coming back to us when we touched the wall.

Over the course of our journey in Israel, there have been many times when we felt inspired and ready to take on a whole new undertaking, based on what we were experiencing.There were also times when we felt overwhelmed by the limited resources and lack of interest in the larger Jewish community in the whole topic of special needs. As Avital Sandler-Leoff, a staff member of JDC Israel Disabilities commented, “In all my 18 years of doing work for people with disabilities in Israel, this is the first group from the States like this who came to see our programs for people with special needs.”

Our task now is to take the heat and energy of this Special Needs Mission and translate into something much bigger. We must find a way to spread the warmth of empathy and compassion into every corner of the Jewish community, both in Los Angeles and Israel.