Last Jewsday Night was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have had in quite some time. Not only was I able to connect with other Jewish teens around San Diego, but I also became aware of the struggles that thousands of individuals face every day, and what I can do to help. By helping individuals with special needs, teens can not only help those individuals, their families and communities, but will be helping themselves down the path of self-improvement.
By simulating the struggles that individuals with disabilities face, I, alongside other teens, were able to truly appreciate the difficulties that kids with disabilities and their families face on a daily basis. To represent the strife that they experience every day, we tried talking with marshmallows in our mouths. This proved to be a lot more difficult than it seemed, and we were unable to effectively communicate with one another. In addition to this, we attempted to have a blindfolded ball toss. As simple as it may seem to toss a ball to one another, this too was exasperating and nearly impossible. However, we had to learn to cooperate with each other and be patient. By having this opportunity to place ourselves in the shoes of kids with disabilities, we were able to empathize with the families of these individuals in order to better help others with special needs. Now, I feel more empowered to instigate a change.
As teens we often feel as if we are unable to make a difference– but we can. By simply taking initiative and helping others we can enhance the lives of so many people and truly instigate a change. The upcoming Friendship Walk to raise funds and awareness for people with disabilities is only one of many great opportunities to make a difference, and I know that all my NCSY peers will be there!
In addition to our partnership with the Friendship Circle, NCSY and the OU are really committed to helping individuals with special needs. Through, Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s agency for individuals with special needs, NCSYers have the opportunity to help adults and fellow teens with special needs as part of many inclusion programs (like our twice-annual Regional Shabbaton, where over 20 individuals with special needs are in attendance). As well, Yachad worked with Congress to pass February as North American Inclusion Month (NA’IM – or נעים – is a Hebrew word which means “pleasant” as in “הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד – How good and pleasant it is for brothers to sit together”) which has brought greater awareness about the needs of those with disabilities and their right to belong and thrive as active and engaged members of society and was the motivation for our Friendship Circle training.
My first Friendship Circle training was a truly enlightening and inspiring experience. What I anticipated to be a night full of learning turned out to be much more, it was a memorable night with friends, fun, and lots of free churros.
Leah Moyal is a Junior at Junipero Serra High School in San Diego and has been actively involved in NCSY and the Jewish Community since before she started High School.