Elise Ronan
Justice, justice, you shall pursue....

The pain of hearing shofar

The blasts of a ram's horn, central to the observance of Rosh Hashanah, pose a dilemma for her family

The days are getting shorter, and the shadows are getting longer. Rosh Hashanah is around the corner.

Growing up I remember being taught that on Rosh Hashanah it is a mitzvah to hear shofar.

Yet as a family, we have not heard shofar for decades. It is simply too painful for my sons.

No, we are not dealing with an emotional trauma. This pain is caused by a physical, yet unseen disability: Auditory processing disorder. A disability, that can stand alone, but is very common in those with autism spectrum disorders.

Initially, we believed that auditory processing was merely a glitch in the uptake of oral information. There needed to be a pause for those with this processing issue to organize, understand, and assimilate the information being presented. But, auditory processing issues are not simply the inability to process oral information in real time. It can also lead to severe pain when faced with certain sounds; anything from a horn beep, to the din of a school cafeteria, to the rush of city traffic.

In fact, when you yell at some people who deal with auditory processing the pain can be excruciating. It can leave them doubled over as if someone has pounded on their head. At times, even covering their ears to protect themselves, is simply not enough to overcome their hyper-sensitivity.

When my sons were little they used to complain about different types of sounds. When they were in school, the teacher would have to help them navigate the hallways because of the din of childhood noise, laughter, talk and activities. Covering their ears helped. You could see them as they meandered about with the hands over their ears, later wearing ear-muffs, afraid of the next noise that would break their calm.

Over the years my young men have learned to parse the noises around them. They are no longer overwhelmed by the sounds of life in a big city when they visit, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy these excursions. The anxiety it provokes is palpable. You see it in their body language, and their speech patterns. They become very quiet and very circumspect. There is simply too much extraneous auditory input in modern urban life, for them to feel totally comfortable in their surroundings.

And shofar is still out of the question.

I don’t know why. But I take my cues from them. As adults do they not have a right to decide where, when and why, to extend their comfort levels, just like everyone else?

Yes, we could try again to go hear shofar. But in life, as with most things, you need to pick and choose your battles. There are some issues that you stand your ground. Some issues are worth a fight with your child and society. The right to, and working towards, a full life. The right to be respected. The right to be seen first and foremost as a human being. These you lose sleep over. These issues you plant your feet and you refuse to move anywhere but forward. But there are also issues, where you do not expend your limited strength, especially when you can, and do, figure out an alternative that brings satisfaction, and joy.

Listen, I know that my sons may handle shofar just fine, unfortunately they could also have a terrible time. Do we selfishly take a chance, and possibly disturb those around us who come to hear shofar in synagogue? Or do we celebrate at home in a way that works for us? As thinking and compassionate people, we always need to realize: Simply because you have a right to do something, take a chance that my sons will be fine when the shofar blows, doesn’t mean you should put everyone else’s celebration at risk.

And something that is quite important to think about too, do we risk embarrassing our grown adult children in front of a community of people, especially when they are loathe to try? Is it worth ratcheting up their anxiety, expending their resources for something that can be just as easily celebrated another way? As adults do special needs human beings not have the same right as all adults to decide how they will live their lives and that includes bodily integrity-the right to avoid possible unnecessary pain?

And no, I do not go alone to synagogue. Holiday is for family. What kind of celebration would it be to stand by myself, bereft of the people that I love the most in the world? I will admit, however, that I do cue up a You Tube shofar video and listen, when I feel the need.

So we celebrate the New Year at home.

We have created our own traditions.

We light candles.

We say prayers

We have a special holiday meal. (This year they are even going to help cook.)

We talk about responsibility, obligation, and the year to come.

But no, as a family, we do not hear shofar.

I decided long ago, that considering that Hashem made my sons, He will simply have to understand.

About the Author
#RenegadeJew ...Elise's specific background deals with the practical aspects of raising special needs children. She has over 20 years experience advocating for her sons and others. Her motto: Don't put off the important things. Stand up for what you believe in. Do what is right and honest. Have patience. Have self-respect. Be kind. And above all BE BRAVE. Elise is a graduate of Boston University Law School and a Certified College Transition Coach for Persons with Asperger's Syndrome. She blogs under a pen-name to protect her sons' privacy.
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