Issue #32 – Who Would’ve Thunk?!

Posted on Posted in All Articles, Down Syndrome and Congenital Heart Defects

Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom’s End-of-the-Year Event
Sarah Sander

As we dabbed our eyes with tissues, I whispered to the mother sitting in front of me, “Who would’ve thunk, when our kids were first diagnosed…”

We were sitting, a large faction of mothers, from every age group, every head covering and every stripe of Jewish life. On the other side of the mechitzah, sat our male counterparts, the fathers, sporting every levush across the spectrum of frum yidden.

But our hearts were uniform.

Every single parent came to see his/her child being mesayem their year of tremendous growth, accomplishment and ultimately, success.

Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom held an end-of-the-year ‘farher’; the students were to be tested on what they learned.

Rabbi Zev Horowitz, the esteemed Menahel Hamoysed of YBL delivered opening remarks. With his characteristic warmth and praise for the staff, Rabbi Horowitz quoted the Bobover Rav zt’l stating that Aharon HaKohen ‘Melamed Sheloi Shinah’ – Aharon was not meshaneh one iota of what the Ribono Shel Oilem requested him to do. Why is that noteworthy praise of Aharon? Isn’t it obvious that he did exactly what Hashem ordered him to do? The Rav zt’l says – Aharon wasn’t ‘meshaneh’ between his own children and others’ children. He treated them exactly the same way; such was his love for all of Klal Yisroel. Rabbi Horowitz then continued, “Our Rabbeim and teachers at Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom teach every single student on his level, without ever differentiating between one and the other. They give their all to each child and tune in to the individual’s needs and stages of learning. And to expound a little more on these words – our Rabbeim do not differentiate between their special needs students and typical students in mainstream mosdos. They have the same goals, hopes and dreams for their students in YBL, as do the mechanchim in typical mosdos. This outlook is what results in the great success you will witness here today.”

To that we add, Rabbi Horowitz is the best teacher and true leader. He gives his full warm heart to each and every student without ever measuring end results, thereby meriting unexpected surprises. Rabbi Horowitz also utilizes every single waking moment of the day, always doing and trying to the max, thus achieving surprises all the time! The students and staff of YBL are the beneficiaries of all that effort he expends.

The event was held in the simcha ballroom of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin. The Marah D’Asra of the shul is Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff shlita. A double-tiered stage was built for the mesaymim. As large and majestic as it was, it still couldn’t hold the entire yeshiva student body. Therefore, the yeshiva was divided into classes and groups. As the first group was called upon, they made their way up to the stage with tremendous poise and decorum. And so, a ceremony that we could never have envisaged in our wildest dreams, kicked off. The students of Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom, most of them born with Down syndrome, were dressed in their Shabbos best, their behavior matching. As the class Rabbeim introduced their respective classes and the subject material they were going to be tested on, the boys on stage worked themselves into a tizzy of excitement.

I envisioned neuro-typical bochrim on the day they have a major farher at yeshiva. Tranquilizers should be on the day’s menu… But for the students of YBL this event was nothing short of a celebration. They learned, worked hard, studied, reviewed and were now confident of knowing their work.

The Rabbeim, ever-so-sweetly, with the greatest warmth and encouragement, questioned each student, as the mic was handed from one to the next. The answers were quick in coming, awash in confidence and accurate to a ‘T’. But the best part was yet to come; as each student called out his answer, the boys flanking him on either side jumped with excitement and then back-slapped their friend, congratulating him on his response, while high-fiving him and each other. The unadulterated joy these children have for each other, the pure elation for another’s success is unparalleled.

As the keynote speaker, Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff, Marah D’asra of Congregation Adas Yeshurun said, “Our kids make us better people, better parents, brothers and sisters. They are michayev us.” Truer words were never said. Watching YBL’s students interact with each other teaches us all powerful lessons in not begrudging others their successes and moments in the limelight.

Starting with the youngest class, students who are approximately 8 – 10 years of age, they were tested on Chumash, on various levels. This was their first year of learning Chumash and already they were superb in their knowledge.

The second class was mesayem Hilchos Brochos. Every week, since the start of the school year, different foods and food groups were introduced, and hundreds of halachos of brochos were internalized.

As Rabbi Lieff referenced so eloquently in his speech, the Chazal of Rav Preyda, where he taught and re-taught his students 400 times until they mastered the content. Rabbi Lieff said, “That was very special of Rav Preyda, but we also have to keep in mind the willpower and patience it takes for a student to learn like that.” Rabbi Lieff was lauding the accomplishments of the students of Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom.

Yet another class learned mishnayos Mesechta Sukkos. In addition to knowing exactly which sukkas were kosher and which ones were passul, the students built beautiful 3-dimensional models of various sukkas they learned about.

One class delved into Lashon L’Midim, learning the meaning of hundreds of Lashon HaKodesh/Hebrew words. The students knew it flawlessly.

Another class was mesayem Kitzur Shulchan Aruch; they learnt and knew the first few simanim seamlessly.

As one mother, Rana Reisman, put it so succinctly, “Our children have a disability, yet despite it, they work harder than most to achieve. Their fortitude and determination to learn our Torah Hakdosha is an incredible sight to see.”

The climax of the farher was a true breakthrough in the world of Down syndrome: the two older classes actually learned Gemarrah! The bochrim were learning, not from photo-copied sheets, but from actual Gemarras, and they mastered many tractates in Masechtas Taanis. Listening to the sweet sing-song tune emanating from the mouths of young men who have Down syndrome, was a watershed moment. We, along with the rest of the human race, had believed that Gemarrah was reserved only for the intellectuals amongst us. How blemished was our perception.

The jubilant dancing by the students, menahel, rabbeim and staff, and parents brought the house down. As Rabbi Sokoloff said during his speech, “There is no such moysed as Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom in the whole world! Every menahel from every single moysed hachinuch should be required to sit into YBL and observe the love, patience and understanding that the Rebbes, teachers and therapists have for their students.”

It is in this haven of love and warmth that the students of YBL get so far in life and obliterate all barriers of stigma and misperceptions.

As another yeshiva parent, Miriam Taub, interjects, “The mantra of the yeshiva is that each bochur is a diamond…and boy, did these young men shine! Every parent and Rebbe beamed as each of the boys said his piece…a collective pride and gratitude to Hashem for what these boys have achieved…successes that for many were at best, a pipe dream. These amazing feats were the results of the boys’ hard work, but would never have happened if it weren’t for the dedication, perseverance and most importantly, love of the Rabbeim, hanhalah and administration of Yeshiva Bonim Lamokom. They are the backbone and driving force of our children’s incredible success.”

Shia’s Mom, who chokes up easily, penned her thoughts of the event. “How is it possible to put into writing in such a small space the feeling we have after such a momentous mesiba? It was larger than life, as the unexpected became reality in front of our eyes. As we daven every day, V’Harev Nu…begging Hashem to make the Torah sweet for our children – this sweetness was unparalleled. The love for Torah coming from these pure neshamos was untainted and so real. But our first thoughts after such an incredible event was ‘how in the world can you make this happen?’ Watching Rabbi Horowitz in action, literally takes one’s breath away. He was the heart of the event, the heart of the yeshiva and lives in the heart of each of “his children”. To quote Rabbi Frankel, my son’s Rebbe, who says it best, “Rabbi Horowitz ‘utemt’ (breathes/lives for) these children.”

Drinking in the sights and sounds of the event, my mind wandered to the moment Moishey was diagnosed after birth…

Yeshiva? Torah study? Gemarrah?!

Who would’ve thunk??