Dedicated to Yahrtzeit of Nan’s mom, Blima Vida Bas Shmayahu. It is poignant to note that our son Joe’s second name Ephraim which carries the meanings; to be fruitful, fertile, productive is for Blima which means To Bloom, Blossom.
This will be my last piece for a while. G-d willing I will start again with Shemot at another time. I have covered close to half of the Torah. What Have I accomplished with these writings? As this has been a Labor of Love, my commitment has been intense as is my commitment to an inward and outward Jewish life. My mission in starting this was to share the genius, influence and potential of Avraham Joshua Heschel and how his various works and life radiated through Torah. What his contributions had and can have on a more meaningful existence to the Jewish community and bringing the world closer to G-d’s Search For Man.
Following a number of incidents relevant to this effort and considering some scenarios from my past, my vision has taken on an added dimension. I have heard from my recently married children that they read these pieces sometimes prior to Shabbat and even at the Shabbat table. I shared that with Rabbi Siff who inspirited me to initiate this effort and he in essence said, “that is what is all about, that alone is worth it.” Yes, Dayenu, it is enough. It helps me see the future and that my future generations can see me.
Back in the 90’s I made the decision to wear my Kippah all the time. I did that for a number of reasons, one of which was so that the world could see who I was. Very soon following that decision, the economy started to turn down as did our small business. We had landed a large contract with a longtime client that would help carry us through. I go to a pre-production meeting (we were already engaged) and my main connect at the company takes me to the side. “Harold when did you start wearing a Kippah?” “Jay, you know I’m now leading an observant life and reasoned I had to.” “I wouldn’t of worn it in that meeting, Don (the project manager) is quietly known not to be a friend of Jews.” “Jay, C’mon, this is NY man.” “Ok, good luck Harold.” Next thing I know our contract was canceled. Project Over. I was, we were devastated, it was a crisis, for me tragic, but life went on.
“We are the most challenged people under the sun. Our existence is either superfluous or indispensable to the world… it is either tragic or holy to be a Jew.” Heschel
During this downtime I was scrambling to see as many prospects and old clients as possible. I called Jeff who became a Sr. VP at a large company… “like to see you again, chat on some things we are doing.” “Sure Harold, pretty booked up but, three weeks Tuesday 11AM is open.” “I’m good with that.” Three weeks, I’m in the impressive lobby in the executive building, “I’m here to see Jeff R.” “Oh, I’m sorry, I heard he is ill today.” “Oh, that is too bad (on a number of levels), may I speak with his assistant so that I can rebook while I’m here……….Hi, Jane, I heard Jeff is sick can you let me know if we……….he just got in, oh great, can he see me?…..fabulous I’ll be right up.”
“Children today experience their highest moments of exaltation in a children’s world, in which there is no room for parents. But unless a fellowship of spiritual experience is re-established, the parent will remain an outsider to the child’s soul. This is one of the beauties of the human spirit. We appreciate what we share, we do not appreciate what we receive. Friendship, affection is not acquired by giving presents. Friendship, affection comes about by two people sharing a significant moment, by having an experience in common.” AJH
“Jeff you don’t look so hot, they said you were out.” Wiping his nose with a tissue, “I was Harold, I came in just to see you.”  “I, well, it wasn’t that important, you could of…..” “I don’t know if you remember, a number of years ago while we were reviewing a project and you told me how you became religious, you also shared with me the beauty of the ritual of blessing your children on Friday night. We are somewhat traditional and we know about the candles and Kiddush, but you shared that idea and how to perform it. I have been doing it ever since and owe you so much. Of course I am going to come in for Harold who changed my life and hopefully shaped my kids future.”
I was struck with Awe. This was Holy and I realized without this interaction there would have been a true crisis and life wouldn’t of gone on.
“ And Israel (Jacob) beheld Joseph’s sons and said: ‘Who are these?”…………. “And he blessed them that day saying; ‘By thee shall Israel bless, saying G-d make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh’” This is what we say every Friday night as we place our hands on our children followed by the Priestly Benediction in blessing them.
Aviva Zornberg commenting on when Joseph brought his children to their Grandfather and Jacob says “Who are these?” She shares the notion that Yaakov had an internal crisis when he asked this, not related to his inability to see referring to “now Israel’s eyes were dim with age.” In that time frame in Egypt, he was aware they were born where what she calls “ in the death world of Egypt, the oblivion.” Actually Jacob said “Who are these?” because he saw the future of Menasheh and Eprhaim as it was going to be. Zornberg, citing a Midrash says that Jacob saw “evil, his grandchildren and generations as alienated, engendered to Kings of Misrule , worshipers of strange Gods.” His seeing what would become of them, essentially of himself, his legacy inspired him to perform in his way, the blessings upon their heads.
Yakov then acted not in accordance with the customary way of blessing offerings. You know the story. He switched who was to receive the blessing from his right hand. He knew what he was doing as he saw in Ephraim the fertile, fruitful nation to come. Joseph saw what his father was doing and challenged but Yakov responded; “ I know it my son, I know it; he (Menasheh) also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother (Ephraim) shall be greater than he and his seed “shall become a multitude of nations.” There are many interpretations but here is my simple one.
What Jacob did in his blessing was different and difficult to do given the circumstances considering the emotions there, the presence of the kids & father Yosef. Just as Jacob was able to see the future within each child, his action foretold that the fruit of Israel will be lives of a different nature, it will be challenging but a blessing to be a part of and true to the Jewish way of life. Different, separate in some ways, but Holy.
“Belonging to Israel is in itself a spiritual act. It is utterly inconvenient to be a Jew. The very survival of our people is a Kiddush Hashem. We live in spite of peril. Our very existence is a refusal to surrender to normalcy, to security and comfort.” Heschel
As we come to a close of the book of Bereshith we behold what our Patriarchs have set up for us and they give us a clue to what our role as Matriarchs and Patriarchs are to be, must be in order to carry forward our different, cherished and Holy representation of G-d’s ways.
.“A world has vanished. All the remains is a sanctuary hidden in the realm of spirit. We of this generation are still holding the key. Unless we remember, unless we unlock it, the holiness of ages will remain a secret of G-d. We of this generation are still holding the key…the key to the sanctuary which is also the shelter of our own deserted souls. If we mislay the key, we shall elude ourselves.
In this hour we, the living , are the people of Israel. The tasks begun by the patriarchs and prophets and continued by their descendants, are now entrusted to us. We are either the last Jews or the ones who will hand over the entire past to generations to come. We will either forfeit or enrich the legacy of ages.
When our children, or grandchildren come to us in the future, it is in our predicament to ask “Who are these?” challenging what we will see,, what they will see. Can we see our lineage, can we see ourselves, can we see what difference we made, that they will make?
In the Haftorah where David is blessing his son, the Prophet shares; “ If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee…’
A number of months ago walking to Shul on Shabbat I saw in front of me someone with a cane poking all around, stumbling a bit, clearly a person visually challenged. I pick up my pace to catch up and ask if I could escort him to where he was going. Michael, introduced himself and shared he was going to the Sfard Minyan at my Young Israel. That morning I had read some incredible Heschel and I wanted to share it. “Michael, did you ever hear of Abraham Joshua Heschel?” “Of course I did, in fact, one of his students who authored books about him was a teacher of mine.” Michael has indeed read some of Heschel’s work and later I find, is a Rabbi! An “Orthodox” Jew that was into Heschel. I was in heaven, walking arm in arm with a learned yid on a brisk Shabbat morning sharing thoughts about Heschel. Mammish Gevaldik!
Time passes and I did not run into Michael for a while. Then one Shabbat morning there he is! “Michael, Michael, wait up.” He hears my voice, “Harold I did not see you in a while.” That statement struck me…he didn’t “see” me for a while? OK, we went on and shared many a good walk and talk together since. I told Michael about these pieces and he asked to be on the list so he could read them each week through the technology he has allowing him to read. Well this week, the week of my final piece, I receive an email from Michael. See below. In his pursuit of his cause helping physically challenged Jews he writes me a note that moved me, took my breath away. That he read my pieces so closely, as will be evident, meant everything to me. He was able to see me, a deep part of me. Considering that maybe in someway his cause will see maybe a few extra dollars, for me Dayenu- It is enough. To think right now one of my kids is reading this, sharing this. Dayenu. The overwhelming notion that I could see my grandchildren at a Shabbat table being blessed by my children, I think G-d would see that.
From Rabbi Michael Levy,
Dear Harold,
In your Vayeshev drasha, you quoted Heschel, Israel is called to be ‘A light to the nations’, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, ….from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Heschel
Even among Klal Yisrael, there are those who unnecessarily sit in spiritual darkness. I am referring to Jews with disabilities who lack access to the resources and nurturing of Klal Ysrael.
Lack of accessible texts make it hard for Jews like me to study.
Wheelchair users face architectural barriers in shuls, schools, and other places of Jewish interest. As Heschel would no doubt have agreed, the biggest barrier is one of attitude. Many Jews of unimpaired intelligence who have physical disabilities remain on or beyond the fringes of Klal Yisrael.
Yad agrees with your statement “Chanukah drasha): “”(this) notion says to us that all are to see the flame of the Menorah without discriminating, all are to experience, to be educated by the light no matter what level they are at, no differences in height….”
Please help Yad make your statement a reality for Jews with disabilities.
Dear Friend or Colleague,
As I share with you the reasons for my commitment to “Yad HaChazakah-The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Inc.”, you will understand why I ask you to make a tax deductible donation to Yad HaChazakah-JDEC and join me in supporting our work. [Please click here if you know enough and you want to donate now.]
Blindness has not prevented me (thank G-d) from marrying, raising a family, holding down a full-time job, and participating in my synagogue and community. In fact, blindness itself has not been the most difficult barrier to overcome.
Advocating for Access to Jewish Texts:
Rather, I’ve had to struggle for 55 years to gain access to Jewish texts. Did you know that thanks to technology, any material that is on computer can now be easily and inexpensively converted to Braille and large print? Yad HaChazakah-JDEC works to convince Jewish establishments and publishers to give us the same access as you have to Torah commentaries discussed at many Shabbat night tables, the periodicals you read on Shabbat afternoon, the hand-outs you receive when you attend a Torah lecture, and the hundreds of new Jewish books published each year. This is especially important for seniors who are losing their vision.Advocating for the Removal of Barriers:
I’’m also concerned about architectural barriers that deny access for people who use walkers or wheelchairs to Jewish schools, synagogues, community centers, and wedding halls and I work with my fellow Yad HaChazakah board members, staffers, and volunteers to remove them. Along similar lines, we advocate that event organizers offer sign language interpreters to Deaf men and women so that they may participate. This year, we successfully convinced a major Jewish organization to close caption 2 videos that it produced and distributed worldwide so that those who are deaf or hard of hearing could benefit from them on this past Tisha B’Av and year long.Changing Perspectives:
The greatest barrier that we face is attitudinal. People with disabilities are still set apart in many minds. We are thought to be “special” people, with “special” needs, requiring “special” programs or services. Yad HaChazakah-JDEC espouses that most people with obvious or hidden disabilities have typical needs, hopes, and dreams. We are not necessarily special, but we are always valuable. Most of us don’t need or want “special” programs most of the time. As Jews, we want to be part of the fabric of our heritage. We just need the accommodations and supports that make it possible for us to participate in and contribute to Jewish community life. Additionally, people who acquire disabilities or health conditions later in life need to adjust to changed abilities and self images, draw upon new strengths, and rebuild their relationships with friends and family. Yad board members, staffers, and volunteers know first-hand how to help them and their families to rebuild their lives and to handle stigma.You Can Help Us to Do More:
Since we began in 2006, Yad HaChazakah-JDEC’s message of “empowerment” has reached 10,560 people through presentations, conferences, meetings and conversations with callers and visitors with disabilities and their families, and website postings. Many more read our articles in The Jewish Week, Jewish Press, and Hamodia. Yet, we have hundreds of thousands more people to reach. Your donation to Yad HaChazakah-JDEC will enable us to expand our capacities to show how many more of the estimated 783,979 Jews nationwide with physical, vision, hearing, intellectual, mental health, learning, or autism spectrum disabilities can participate in and contribute to our beloved “House of Israel.”

Please donate and support our mission to equip Jews with obvious or hidden disabilities with the information, guidance, and accommodations we need in order to more fully participate in and contribute to our communities. We would like to be able to sustain and build our capacities to:

  • Reach and directly serve more of the estimated 783,979 Jews living with disabilities and their families living throughout the United States and 17,987 in New York State.
  • Provide valuable information through electronic and print media and events.
  • Remove physical and attitudinal barriers to participation in Jewish community life.