Friday, December 20, 2013

Not Just any Birthright Trip

We will eat falafel.
I leave to staff a Birthright trip, Sunday, December 22 for 10 days.  I love visiting Israel and taking people there for a first time experience.  This time I am on a special mission as my Birthright trip is for young adults with Aspergers. (Asperger syndrome is often considered a high functioning form of autism. It can lead to difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness.) My middle son went on this same trip 2 years ago and had the time of his life.  Shorashim is the sponsor of this trip and has been for the past few years with different partner organizations.  The students this year as in the past are from all over the United States.  This trip is not unlike other Birthright trips, we see the same sites from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv to Safed but we don't move around as much; we have more staff and most of our time is programmed. We will eat falafel, ride camels and have a wonderful time.  I will know more in a few days and look forward to blogging my experiences.  

I find as a parent of a young Jewish adult on the spectrum and as an Educator in suburban Chicago that we don't offer many Jewish programs for this constituency. As a professional I am not proud of this fact but I do believe that in the future we will see more programs for students not on the spectrum. Even in my school every year I see more students on the spectrum who would benefit from long and short term Jewish experiences.  

I am looking forward to working with a dedicated staff and I know my group is excited and can't wait to land at Ben Gurion Airport Monday.  We will begin our journey and I know one thing for sure: it will be a memorable one.
Jonathan at the Kotel, with his Birthright Madrichim, Counselors

Monday, December 16, 2013

Not the natural order of things: A light gone out, Sammy Sommer Z'L

This is not the natural order of things, for parents to bury a child.   I was at Sammy Sommer's (Z"L) funeral with more than 1000 people as we said goodbye to Sammy and as we cried with Phyllis, Michael, David, Yael and Solly.  I was there with many Rabbis, Cantors, Educators, teachers, friends, congregants; this assembly was mighty and to behold it in person was to be in awe.  
Program booklet

Rabbi Steven Lowenstein began with a story from Rabbi Harold Kushner about a boy who was very late coming home from school.  Where was he?  He was with a friend whose brand new bicycle had broke.  His parents yelled at him and asked again what could he do to help?  He didn't know how to fix a bicycle, the boy responded, I helped him to cry.  
Inside program booklet

We were all there today to help the entire Sommer family and the circles of communities to grieve.  Phyllis and Michael are part of so many communities that in the first part of Rabbi Lowenstein's remarks which had been dictated by Phyllis, he thanked all of the different communities including:  Am Shalom Congregation and their staff, their children's schools, pre-schools, their temporary schools in Milwaukee, the hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and their camp, Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute and too many more to list here.  

Cantor Andrea Rae Markowicz's voice along with the voice and guitar of Adam Kahan gave all of us comfort as they sang Ozi v'izimrat Yah, Cantor Markowicz Adonai Roi, (23rd Pslam) and Adam closed with Chazak- be Strong by Dan Nichols and Lee Friedman.  

Rabbi Pamela Mandel told us that today was not a day we wanted to ever face.  We hoped and hoped it would not come. In Rabbi Lowenstein's eulogy which was eloquent, full of tears and some giggles he told us that soon after Sam relapsed this last time that the two of them had a conversation over lunch with french fries.  Sam asked, "Who will do my funeral?"  and Rabbi Lowenstein said he would.  Sam asked if there could be fireworks and party games.  Rabbi Lowenstein said we will see what we can do.  A few weeks ago the community came together again and gave Sammy fireworks which he saw and enjoyed.  Sammy was bright, he loved bugs and animals; he loved OSRUI and most of all he loved life.  

When the pall bearers were called up for this tiny casket my tears flowed harder if that is possible.  It is not in the natural order of life to watch Sammy's favorite friends, uncles, babysitters, principal, Rabbi friends, be called to be his pall bearers.  As they came forward I was broken.

As I got back to my office after the funeral my phone, email, Facebook were all beeping and going off.   I hope this paltry effort opens a window on to my perspective of saying goodbye to Sammy.   That is one reason I wanted to write this all down.  Another reason I write down here is for my mentor,Phyllis, Ima Bima  who gently guided me to blog and to start on social media. Phyllis and Michael's own blog for Superman Samuel has drawn so many people into their inner circle.  Many people feel connected and want to continue to help this family in this sad hour. Following the story is a natural out take of their beautiful blog to Sammy, which in turn is a tribute to the entire family.  

When I heard that Sam has breathed his last breath Friday night I broke my Shabbat rule and texted Phyllis and Michael, "I have no words, Baruch Dayan Haemet, (traditional response meaning "Blessed is the true Judge")  doesn't seem right. I love you." It is cold, snowy and dark in Chicago today; a light has gone out.