Do you understand the significance of a bar mitzvah? For the average child it is a huge milestone. A transition from the innocence of childhood into the adult world signified by coming before the Jewish community and declaring that they are welcomed members of society. They prepare for years and years in order to accomplish this goal. It is not only a proud moment for parents and grandparents, but for every person present who is chosen to bless this event in a child’s life.
Now think what would you do if that moment was denied your child, because of the rabbi you chose or the branch of Judaism you follow? Now think how that would make you feel if your child had a developmental delay, like autism, and once again, a typical moment in life was denied them, due not because of their autism (which happens almost on a daily basis within autism families), but because the adults involved forgot about the person at the center of the bar mitzvah, and in fact forgot the meaning of a bar mitzvah in the first place.
Autism is not like other disabilities. The spectrum is so varied, no matter what you do there is not one catchall that works for everyone diagnosed. So special care must be taken in order to create, and procure a proper individual education and understanding for everyone on the spectrum, no matter how high functioning. Those who work with the autistic understand that it takes time and a huge amount of effort to understand each person’s unique idiosyncrasies, abilities and deficits. It takes time and effort to understand how to harness these abilities and help the person with autism overcome their challenges to meet their goals. You can’t one day stick in a new person and say….”here, go teach,” or “here, go rabbi.” It doesn’t work like that.
You also cannot imagine, unless you have lived through it, just how hard these typical milestones can be for a person on the autism spectrum. Nothing is simple in the world of a family that deals with autism. Everything must be plotted and planned and organized and reorganized. It must be developed, thought through, redeployed and restructured. For some children on the autism spectrum, the fact that they can get to the point that they can even recite a prayer is beyond anything a parent could have imagined would happen. So to have this celebration taken away because of displaced priorities is beyond disheartening.
Whether these parents chose a Conservative, Reform or Orthodox rabbi it should not have mattered. The person responsible for guiding these children to this day of entering the adult Jewish world were the ones that should have been there leading them into the adult Jewish world. Those that work with your child day in and day out, deserve to be there on such a big day to kvell and be given the respect that they have earned for the joy that they helped create.
There are people I still send milestone information to every time one of my sons reaches a goal. I know that today’s successes come from the coattails of yesterday’s supports and challenges. I know that without these special people, who took such time, effort and care in helping guide my sons through so much of their lives, today’s college and graduate school successes, would not be possible.
In the end, the point of the bar mitzvah for these boys with autism was to welcome them into the Jewish community. The point of their bar mitzvahs was to celebrate their lives. The point of their bar mitzvahs was supposed to be about joy. It was to give them and their family a bit of normalcy in an otherwise untypical existence. It wasn’t about one branch of Judaism over another. It wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t about egos. It was supposed to only be about them.
Sadly President Rivlin, a man who has proven himself such a mensch in so many ways, seems to have forgotten what was truly important about that bar mitzvah day for those youngmen on the autism spectrum and their families.