There’s a very holistic idea in Judaism to which I relate brought down to me many years ago by a truly incredible mentor and tzaddik, Rav Avraham Twerski. It was this: the fundamentals of what we have to do in this world, is partner with G-d and quite simply, “to make man.” OR MORE INCLUSIVELY, TO MAKE HUMAN BEINGS. The deeper implications of that concept are how we choose to live our lives, work alongside each other and our creator, and via positive actions, become b’tzelem elokim “like” G-d.
Camp Shutaf’s August program – a part of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, for children, teens, and young adults, with and without disabilities – is one way of “making (hu)mans,” inclusively-minded and caring individuals, learning to behave in a way to become a true ben adam, somewhere along the right path of coming closer to G-d.
The word Shutaf itself actually means partnership and that’s what it is; partnering with each other to learn and understand that while we’re all very different, we’re all actually exactly the same in His eyes.
My 9- year old son Golan went to Shutaf this summer. I had absolutely no idea what he was going to do for August. There was no chance our family would take a vacation during that time and neither my husband nor I were able to take off any long-period of time from work. My younger kid was booked into a gan-style camp (wonderful for his age) but for Golan I was completely at a loss. You see, at this age, a backyard camp run by a few 13-year-old boys for a few hours in the morning – great though that is – just doesn’t cut it anymore. and loved it as he has in the past. He’s older, has waaaaayyy more energy and literally doesn’t stop bouncing around. And so the Jewish mother guilt of “I’m failing him,” set in.
Truthfully, even if we could afford some fancy shmancy hotel somewhere or a massively expensive sleepaway camp, or (I wasn’t working) day trips I wouldn’t be thrilled! Because I have personal limitations in that I only drive around my home area, the Gush. And once you’ve done the three or four activities here (which are always crazy mobbed) you’re left with, well, nothing really.
I figured he’d go to the school camp (thank G-d it was available for third graders for the first time this year), a backyard camp for as long as they had one and then, well nothing. Lots of iPad. Which by the way, makes this sweet, awesome little boy… CRAZY. Because all he wants to do is run around.
Add all of this to the fact that 98.3% of his friends leave Efrat for August. Most on what could only be described as once-in-a-lifetime vacations that cost the earth (but happen every year so I guess in these cases they’re not once-in-a-lifetime).
So there I was one late Shabbat afternoon, bemoaning this situation to my neighbor, the Marvelous Marci. Bemoaning in a good way though because I’m very positive about my life and I do feel BH I have this “problem” of having an amazing kid whom I do not have the tools to satisfy! But, still bemoaning.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no jealousy whatsoever. I am totally content with my life. I have a great husband, a wonderful job, two beautiful boys, a dog and 12 garden tortoises. But that’s me. That’s not Golan. He’s still a 9-year old boy. And 9- year old boys want to bounce. Around. A. Lot.
So when I mentioned this to Marci she was like “how about Shutaf?” Now I’d heard of Shutaf as some friends had sent their kids on it and had really enjoyed it. But I didn’t know much. Just that it was a lot of fun, a lot of activity, great food, and, well, a real summer camp. But then I figured that would be another camp we couldn’t afford. I presumed that when they call it an “inclusion” camp they meant to just include all types of kids, not parents who have their issues. Or even if it was for kids without traditional disabilities if their parents were poor and had their own set of special needs (see above) then it wouldn’t include them. Or even if it did, I couldn’t get him there…
But then I found – after talking to Marci – that this wasn’t the case. It was a camp for kids “with special needs,” but Shutaf’s approach is that every kid has special needs because every kid is special and, well, has needs. And isn’t that so the case? Don’t I always want to laugh and cry at the same time that my kid is not in the special needs class at school but could really use some one-on-one attention? What is that?
And I also found that being a non-profit, Shutaf camps can help you – the parent – with a payment plan, will look at you the parent as one with “special needs,” because truthfully, what we so often forget when raising our kids is that we too as parents are “special” and we have “needs” as well. And then I found out that there was a bus!!!!! So I didn’t need to panic about transport.
So while Golan dashes to the bus every day excited for another fun-filled day at Shutaf including (and I exaggerate not) archery, carpentry, swimming, Tai-Chi, dog training, soccer and so much more – all led by experts in the field – I can go to work and sit quietly with my coffee in an air-conditioned environment and know that my kid is doing what kids are meant to do in the summer – having a great, fun time in a safe, supportive environment, learning how to be a true ben adam with a ton of other kids who come from all sorts of backgrounds but want the same thing.
This has honestly been the first time ever my son and I have ever been treated as “special.” And the first time that our “needs” have been taken into account when it comes to a summer camp. And thus the first time – and I hope and pray of many – that we get to experience a part of what it truly means to “make man” in a partnership, with the kids, the parents, Shutaf and G-d.
So thank you. Thank you for depicting what it means to truly “make (hu)man” – inclusive, caring individuals. Thank you for not discriminating against any kid or any parent and making this a true inclusion camp with the recognition that we are all special.