How will we begin the healing?

The day after the pandemic could be a this-is-us moment for inclusive community building
Beth doing Tripod headstand

I’m 10 and outside our house, on the side lawn that I liked most for gymnastic endeavors. I’m working on headstands, kicking my legs up until my balance catches for a moment, then flailing wildly as I come down to land on the cushion of our suburban lawn. There’s even a picture of the moment, my face flushed and laughing after one wooly landing. 

Ten months into this pandemic experience, and I’m still trying to find my balance. Over and over. What about you? 

Beth doing Tripod Headstand

In my work at Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem, as we do the Brady Bunch thing on Zoom, each of us trapped in our boxes, I think, it’s all going to be better, right? 

No more pivoting, rethinking, or refocusing, I’m so done with that. 

I’m also tired of being flexible, and in any case, no amount of yoga will solve the problem of my tight hamstrings. Let’s just go back to what we were doing, way back almost a year ago. 

But can we? The losses endured this year, some of them deeply painful, have changed us, perhaps forever. 

We’ve watched as the pandemic wreaked havoc on so many, in particular those more vulnerable in our community, people with disabilities young-and-old, the elderly, their families and caregivers, and medical professionals, a population we would not have considered as vulnerable until a pandemic swept through their lives and ours. 

What will we need to do (and learn) in order to find our way back to normalcy? To find our balance and heal from the emotional fallout as we edge closer to that moment of stepping out into the sunlight of the “day after COVID.” 

It won’t be easy. We’ve turned even more inward than ever before. We’ve been more fearful than ever of the other and to the risks of getting close – physically and emotionally. 

We’ve barely hugged anyone. For a year.
We need to take the time now and prepare ourselves for opening back up.
Opening back up to each other. To the needs of the whole community. 

It’s an inclusion watershed moment. More than ever before. A mindset-reset-moment, when we can allow ourselves to focus beyond our own needs, rethink our attitudes and fears of those who we feel are different, those who the pandemic sidelined.

Think about that. The ordinary, pre-pandemic thoughtless marginalization of people with disabilities (day after day) was turned on its head, by a virus. 

As for the headway made on inclusive thinking, acceptance and bringing together all people of all abilities? Lost in the Corona haze. 

Akiva and his Dad baking cookies together

I still can’t wrap my head around it, nor can my 23-year old son, Akiva, who has disabilities. While he’s been fortunate to have a working day program, it’s been a bit of a bore given fears of mixing participants and COVID risk factors.

His life has been limited to walks with mom and dad and online social activities which don’t really work for him. 

When we closed up in-person programs at Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem on March 15th, 2020, we had no idea how long it would be before we’d see the children, teens and young adults with disabilities with whom we spend our year having fun with at programs, including day camps and evening activities. Except for one brief outdoor adventure in July with our young people, which resulted in a 2-week quarantine for all (thankfully, nobody got sick), we’ve worked mostly from afar, lonely for each other. 

By the time our participants return to Shutaf (and their other programs as well), hopefully this summer at Camp Shutaf in August, they’ll have spent more than a year separated from their peers without disabilities, especially if they’re enrolled in special education settings. For those in inclusive general education, many have had almost no in-person classes or stayed home because of medical concerns given the higher risk factors of COVID for people with disabilities. 

If my mental health and emotional well-being feels battered, what does that mean for children, teens, and young adults with disabilities, many of whom struggle with complex mental health and self-esteem issues when it’s not a pandemic. 

We need to think about these bigger needs across the board and throughout our communities, from schools to places of prayer (when we re-enter them), to the workplace, and to other community gathering spaces. And don’t forget larger issues of who can be safely vaccinated and who can’t. We must be fair, thoughtful and inclusive, in order to act without fear. 

Remember, this is us. It’s me. My son. Your friend’s child. Your neighbor. Our community. 

Think of the healing possible. Using the gift of taking time we can have the inclusion moment we all need as we come together anew and welcome our collective differences.

About the Author
Beth Steinberg is the Executive Director and co-founder of Shutaf, Inclusion Programs for Children with Special Needs in Jerusalem. A believer in Jewish camping, Beth is a graduate of Massad and Ramah camps, where she learned the importance of informal education programs as a platform for teaching Jewish and social values. As a parent of a child with special needs, she struggled to find workable, appropriate activities for her child. Beth believes that a well-run inclusion program can help educate and change values, creating meaningful and lasting social change. Beth is also the Artistic Director of Theater in the Rough, engaging audiences with free summer Shakespeare.
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