Responses to the Editor's Message in Issue 4

Dear Mrs. Sander, amush,

I really wanted to express a strong feeling that I have regarding reader response to articles and the way it is being handled. If I am not mistaken, it is the practice of most respectable journals that an author be given an immediate opportunity to respond to criticism of the readers. I have frequently read both the “complaint” and the author's reply in the same issue. Not only does this help complete the picture, but it maintains the integrity of the author whom you chose to publish. On many occasions the author will point out a misunderstanding or express a clarification etc., which deflates what is sometimes unwarranted criticism. Secondly, there are some authors who should be allowed to be above reproach. While we may question to understand, I do not believe that we have the right to make them the focus of criticism or be given equal stature in disagreeing with them.

For example, if you were to reprint the Teshuvos of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ZT”L regarding foster care and adoption and some Baal Habayis, housewife, social worker, or doctor, was to send in an article criticizing and disagreeing with HaRav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, would it be right to publish it??? Is it appropriate that one who is not of the same stature be given equal credibility??? (Of course we may ask to understand...but do we have the stature to challenge and offer critique??) These feelings overtook me as I read the Krausz's response (Controversy-Fuschia Cover Issue) to Dr. Abraham. As I said, I believe any author deserves the courtesy of immediate response. But here we have someone of world class stature who spoke, taught and wrote about things which were direct result of his personal and repeated conversations with HaRav Shloma Zalman Auerbach. He is the author of the most respected seforim on medical Halacha including 5 volumes of Nishmas Avraham. Everyone knows that he checked everything out with HaRav Auerbach ZT”L (and a lot with Rav Elyashiv Shlita) and that the seforim have HUNDREDS (if not THOUSANDS) of Pesokim of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In addition, HaRav Neivirt Shlita told me that HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach told Dr. Abraham that Dr. Abraham could ‘paskin' even Dinei Nefashos by himself!!! How many people in the world have that type of Haskama??!!? He is an ‘Anav' and and ‘Adam Gadol'. He is an outstanding MD and a great Talmid Chacham. He is filled with Yiras Shamayim in the most remarkable way. All that he said about adoption and foster care were DIRECT Pesakim and advice of HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. When he repeated these things to a special session of Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva at the Agudah convention a few years ago he completed the ‘shiur' about 1:00 a.m. I met him in the dining room at 7:30 a.m. and he looked exhausted. I asked him why he was so-o-o tired and he said that he was awake until 5:00 a.m. thinking over all that he had said. HE WAS CONCERNED WHETHER HE WAS ACCURATE IN REPEATING ALL THE WORDS OF HARAV SHLOMO ZALMAN AUERBACH without altering their message, meaning or intent. Only after he was certain that he was true to the message and that he didn't put his subjective self into the advice was he able to fall asleep until he arose to daven at Netz Hachama like he does every day of the year!!! How many Rabbanim have the Zehirus??? How many physicians???

While I have tremendous respect for the Krausz'es and admiration for all they do, I believe that the tone of the letter was improper when considering the author of the article (speech) who was being analyzed. The article doesn't cite a Rav of equal stature who differs with Dr. Abraham. I once sat with Dr. Abraham as we visited a certain well known rebbe. The Rebbe had serious questions about what Dr. Abraham repeated in the name of HaRav Auerbach and even HE expressed it by saying that he doesn't understand the ‘psak' and that we must seek further clarification.

After Dr. Abraham originally presented these Pesakim in Nov.-Dec. ‘93 at the Agudah Convention and at Shomrei Emunah, the Krausz'es and others understandably questioned how the Psakim reflect upon adoptive families. I received clarification and elaboration from Dr. Abraham, and I have shared many a late night discussion on the topic. Dr. Abraham expressed to me that his intention was certainly not to denigrate existing adoptive parents who are Boruch Hashem providing living Yiddishe homes for children with special needs. After the fact that these Yiddishe neshamos are not being kept by their own family, the adoptive families (and the Krausz'es certainly b'rosham!) are doing the GREATEST of Chesed. Rather, the Pesak addresses the initial responsibility that biological parents have to their children NOT to remove them from their natural home. It focuses on the requirement that those biological parents have to learn to accept the will of Hashem even if it is difficult, and work on themselves to parent ALL of their children with love, joy, and dedication. It stresses that THEY should not view adoption as an option and that THEY can provide more love and affection than anyone else.

I hope that I have been clear...in defense of Torah Velomdeha Umelamdeha. Thanks so much for everything and CHAZAK VE'AMETZ!!!

Sincerely,
Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz

 


CONFRONTATION: MORE ON INCLUSION
Recently, we have heard some suggestions from a few people that perhaps kids with special needs would do best in segregated programs, and that they don't really gain from inclusion. After all, “special ed programs allow their specific needs to be dealt with on a regular basis”. The reality is that such a perspective overlooks the greatest need of all - THE NEED FOR EVERY CHILD TO BE AN ACTIVE PART OF HIS OR HER COMMUNITY! After a child finishes school, grows up, and then becomes part of the “real” world, there are no special needs grocery stores, no special needs bakers, laundromats, synagogues, etc. A person who spends the first 18 or 20 years of life in segregated environments, where the only other people around are also those with disabilities, will not be ready to function in life, and will, of necessity, be a dependent human being forever! How many parents want their child to be forever dependent? Simple logic says that if we want a child to grow up with independent living skills, he needs to be exposed to “typical” role models on a regular basis. This means that he/she needs to go to school with the neighborhood children, go to synagogue with brothers and sisters and Mom & Dad, so that he/she is a part of the regular community. Then, as an adult, he is likely to know how to participate in synagogue services, go to the grocery store, dry cleaners, library, etc., and has a chance of being able to include those normal activities in his/her life.

Probably much of the misunderstanding about inclusion comes from people thinking it means throwing the child with special needs into a regular class room and let him/her cope. That's not inclusion! That's “dump and run”! Inclusion means that every child deserves to live, learn and play with the same people and in the same place he would if he had no disability, but that appropriate accommodations may need to be made. In particular, it must be recognized that children with disabilities can learn, but they may need a significantly increased number of learning opportunities to succeed. If a classroom can't accommodate a child with clear disabilities, then we question if it is meeting the needs of most of the so-called “typical” children, because there is obviously no attempt to consider the individual needs of each and every child.

Our Rafi, 4, and Gavriella, 2, who have Down syndrome, go with us to the grocery store, the department store, the bakery, etc., where they are learning how to behave, where they have “friends” who say hello to them, and where they are learning how to function in normal society. They both attend the Chabad pre-school here in Denver, where they have friends, can play with other kids, where the other kids can appreciate them with their differences, and where they can be a real part of their Jewish community. (By the way, the public system sends an aide for Gavriella and a speech therapist for Rafi to Chabad!) Rafi comes to shul with Dad on Shabbos, and goes up to everyone, extends a hand and says “Good Shabbos”. If they don't respond, he insists, “Shake!” He's learning how to behave in shul, and to be a part of our community. We want no less than that for him, and no parent should expect less for their child!

We, who have adopted children with special needs, along with those who have given birth to them, want them to achieve inclusion in their community when they are adults. Reprinted with permission from the Spring ‘97 newsletter of the Jewish Children's Adoption Network, Denver, CO

 


CONFRONTATION
Dear Sarah,

As always it was a pleasure to see your magazine in the stores.

However, after reading your “Editor's Message”, I was very disappointed. It seems so out of character for you to write lines like “Let's Get Real” when talking about parents who have chosen inclusion as the best path for their children. What happened to acceptance and tolerance?? Not all children with Down syndrome are the same!

My daughter is in an Inclusion program in the Beis Rivka Yeshiva. She does not attend after school or Sunday programs. I don't believe that I am in “denial”. I understand fully that my daughter is mentally retarded. However, I strongly believe that the more she participates in the so called “normal” world the better it will be for her. After all, there are no “special ed” banks, supermarkets, stores or neighborhoods.

Our children need to know how to function in the real world, and yes, young children do have the ability to understand and accept the differences in a special needs child. If you would like to observe an inclusionary program, you are more than welcome to visit Sara Mushka's class. My daughter is doing very well in school - no, she is not reading on the same level as the other children, but she has almost mastered the alef-beis. She understands the concept of nikodos and we are very optimistic that she will indeed read. Her day starts at 8:30 am and she is home by 4 pm. Sara is not a behavioral problem and enjoys her day. She is popular and she does have friends.The children understand that Sara is different. They help her, but most importantly - THEY ACCEPT HER FOR WHO SHE IS. Her speech has improved dramatically. Sara started out with one word at a time and is now speaking in sentences. She has matured tremendously.

I cannot understand how you can lump all children with Down syndrome into one square. Sara comes home from school and plays with her siblings. I do not have to entertain her. She loves her dolls and also playing school with her sister. Shabbos is not long - Sara is busy all day. She goes to shul, she loves kiddush and the Shabbos meal. After lunch she plays or goes through her books which she enjoys. Often she takes a nap with her Tati or goes to the park. On Sunday she has ballet class and spends the rest of the day with me.

You use, as an example of inclusion, your Moishey going to shul. We have worked hard on training Sara to behave properly in shul. We were successful with this because we consistently took her there and taught her to do what is right. We didn't take her home because we were embarrassed - we told her “no”. She does not yet daven but she does kiss the Torah and plays with the other children, some of whom are her classmates. Sara also understands “Mukzeh”. She does not turn on lights, touch the computer or ring the doorbell on Shabbos. Sara also lights a Shabbos candle and makes the brocha. She knows from that moment on Shabbos is here and life is different - we are Shabbosdik. Inclusion is not an easy concept for people to understand. And it does not apply just to school. Inclusion begins at birth, first with the family, then the community and schools, and society at large. We feel very strongly that Sara can only benefit by living as normal a life as possible. In other words, our main concern is that she be a mentch! Later, if we find that academically it is too much for Sara, we will then work with the Yeshiva to open self-contained classrooms so children like Sara can be mainstreamed wherever possible. There is absolutely no reason for her to go to public school, nor to go to a school outside of the neighborhood. As wonderful as the Bi-lingual program is, it is not a Yeshiva.

I would suggest that you do a little more research on Inclusion before you come to the decision that it is not appropriate for children with Down syndrome. Besides the Beis Rivka program, I would also suggest visiting the Surfside School in Coney Island. Surfside is a public school which has successfully fully included 19 severely disabled children. It is a truly inspiring experience and the principal, Mr. Stephen Levy, and his staff, are knowledgeable, caring people.

Our Yeshivas must wake up. Every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education. I understand that inclusion might not be the right road for your child, but sarcastic remarks about parents who do choose inclusion is not appropriate in a magazine like yours.

Let's get back to tolerance and acceptance. Not all children with Down syndrome belong in segregated special education programs.

Hatzlacha.

Sincerely,
Chana Goldstock
Executive Administrator/Co-Founder Heart to Heart
The American Jewish Society for Distinguished Children

 


Editor's Response:
Dear Chana Shetichya:

Honestly, I was not surprised that my views on “inclusion” evoked such firecracker emotions. in a world where idealism reigns supreme, i expected this reaction. contrary to your accusation, i am not lumping all down's children together. just the opposite! I'm saying that pushing for inclusion blindly is more of the ‘cookie cutter' process.

I did do lots of research on inclusion, as you suggested, however, way before i wrote my opinion about it. i had several hands-on experiences too. When moishey was approximately 4 years old and pesach tikvah did not yet exist for us on Sundays and legal holidays, my husband and i decided that it would be a good idea to enroll him in a regular ‘yeshiva-cheder' class for every Sunday. we did some painstaking research into what our options in the community were. after our tireless investigation we chose a ‘cheder' that had an excellent reputation among the parents we consulted: small-sized classes, excellent ‘rabbeim', lots of toys, creative activities and good lunches. we were very hopeful. I called the administrator and had an amazing conversation with him; it turned out that he was the parent of a down's child who was given up for adoption because his wife felt overwhelmed by the challenge. the young man was still aching as he spoke to me. toward the end of our conversation, after i had told him of our plans for moishey, he said he would consult with his colleagues in the administration and get back to us with an answer. several days later he called back and said that the administration had vetoed moishey's acceptance unanimously. i laugh out loud today when i think back to the buckets of tears that i shed then. i called my sister on the telephone and sobbed bitterly, repeatedly moaning, “this is our first rejection of moishey since he was born!” several days later the remorseful administrator called back to say that ‘the case was reviewed' and we can come down to the yeshiva with moishey. we arrived on a Sunday morning shortly after ‘cheder' started. there were 2 ‘rabbeim' “shmoozing” in the hallway, while approximately 55 children (3-4 year olds) were raising hell. kids were climbing on chairs, jumping off tables, and there seemed to be an ever-colorful array of bodies in the air as though suspended by lack of gravity. we were shocked. we tried to walk moishey through the classroom and introduce him to some toys, all the while watching his reaction. moishey chose a quiet corner, safely out of reach of all those flying bodies, and started to self-stimulate.

We took him by the hand, went home, and the next day I called the administrator with this message, “thanks, but ‘No' thanks!” the reason why i have described the above episode in detail is for you and others out there to understand, that in very crowded communities, this is what yeshivas have to offer.

In fact, while I was gathering data for my “inclusion” issue, I wanted to ask a close relative who is also a teacher, to write about her point of view as a teacher of some 30 plus students, and what it would be like to be given the additional responsibility of also having several special needs students in her class. I felt that as a relative of a child with down syndrome (moishey), readers would accept her writeup and feel her sensitivity, yet honesty, about this very difficult situation. however, once I had discussed this issue with her, I was afraid she wouldn't be able to walk down the avenue anymore, because the “politically correct inclusion-pushers” would be slinging mud at her.

I boldly reiterate my stance on this issue. yes, it is advisable, if and when the situation is ideal.

My husband and i have an acquaintance, an affluent businessman, who is also the father of a teenager who has down syndrome. the young ‘bachur' is in a classroom of ‘normal' “bachurim” his age. When my husband questioned the father in bewilderment about the boy's ability to keep up with the intense torah studies, the father winked and answered as follows: “a well-padded ($$$'s) handshake with the administrator and ‘rebbe' does the trick.”

Is this what we want for our children?

The summer before moishey turned four we were home in the city for the months of July and august (I had just given birth to a baby). because we were in the process of changing moishey schools, he had no official summer program to attend. I enrolled him in one of the local toddler playgroups. at that particular playgroup there was a little girl who had down syndrome as well, who was not enrolled in any special ed program. playgroup had been her ‘formal schooling' since she left her mommy's apron strings. The parents of this young child vehemently denied their daughter's true needs, and claimed that if they threw her into the ‘real world' then she would grow up like all the ‘real' people. The playgroup teachers were amazed when they saw the difference between these 2 children. Simple skills like crayon/pencil grasp are so much more refined in a child that has received fundamental therapies. Now, years later, that child is still in a very inappropriate school setting, albeit ‘included' with the ‘normal' population.

So, is “let's get real!” really such a sarcastic comment?

Of course, Mrs. Goldstock, you are very lucky with your success at beis rivkah!! but, how many beis rivkah's are there out there??

I also feel like i should personally defend the bi-lingual program that you have slighted in your letter. a ‘yiddishe' program that boasts 75 children with varying disabilities within a public school,yet is totally segregated, is a yeshiva setting by all means. and just to respond to your outburst that there are no ‘special ed' banks, supermarkets, stores, etc.., you are 100% right, and this is precisely what today's special ed programs are preparing the children for. Moishey has gone on school trips to the supermarket, to the dentist, to the seamstress, etc. the children are being taught about the real world. Talk to your other children. when was the last time they were taken on such trips by their schools? I would be compromising my child's education if i were to deprive him of these real-life opportunities!!!

As for the shul scenario, that isn't either an isolated incident that passed without much static.. moishey is our first and only son, so I don't have much shul-going experience with my children. However, because of my strict upbringing regarding the ‘kedusha' and ‘kovod' of a bais hamedrash, I always felt uncomfortable when I saw young children running wild in shul. So, we were torn in our hearts: take moishey to shul and demand of him, and expect him to sit through the entire service? we wouldn't even be happy knowing that he is capable of being such a ‘klutz'. On the other hand, running around and being noisy goes against our values system. also, there is a danger factor involved - there are doors leading out to the street, doors leading to boiler rooms, a door leading to the mikveh (danger! danger!), and percolators filled with boiling water. Realistically, does my husband go to shul to daven or to entertain and chase moishey? We did discuss this scenario with many a professional and special parent. All agreed unanimously, that it was unreasonable of parents to try to subject themselves and the child to a complete morning session of shachris and mussaf prayers. sensible suggestions ranged from - “work your way back, by taking him to shul at the end of davening, just in time to wish everybody a ‘gut shabbos'” to “take him for the last 10 minutes and keep increasing by five minute intervals.”

There are no easy answers. however, appreciation of opinions other than one's own, can only lead to open-mindedness with any issue.

Sincerely,
Sarah Sander


 

This article first appeared in issue #5 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us


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