“Hi Mom, how was your day?”
“Good, Jacob, how was yours?”
“Great! I had lunch at Bravo Pizza!”
I pause to process this information. What? Who went with him? How did he get there? Did he cross the street alone? How did he get inside?
It occurs to me that discussing lunch with my 19-year-old son shouldn’t induce panic. Did my other kids, ages 22,15 and 13, eat at all that day? I don’t usually think about it. I just assume that at lunchtime, they’ll find a food source and eat. Similarly, I take for granted that whatever basic challenges arise, they will navigate them with ease. But they don’t have cerebral palsy.
My other children don’t rely on a wheelchair to get around, and their speech is not impaired. They have never had a problem accessing any location of their choosing, and they haven’t had to fight for the right to attend any particular school.
Jacob has spent years begging for the chance at a Jewish college education. The Makor College Experience (a partnership program between Yeshiva University and Makor Disability Services) student ID card hangs around Jacob’s neck like a gold medal: proof that he finally belongs.
We have always treated Jacob as similarly to our other sons as possible. He attends shul every Shabbat, he lained at his Bar Mitzvah and has danced at many weddings. He is a diehard Yankees, Knicks, Giants and Rangers fan. He has attended summer camp and participated in 3 marathons. He loves swimming, bowling, roller coasters, and restaurants. He has gone rock climbing, surfing, skiing and rafting. Sounds amazing, right? Here’s the catch: Jacob cannot learn in a mainstream classroom setting.
While our other children were learning about Jewish holidays in their yeshiva day school, Jacob was in public school making decorations for holidays he didn’t celebrate. He made friends through many wonderful organizations, and has had amazing experiences, but these are not his everyday reality. Life is made up of the small moments. For Jacob, those were often spent alone. We became focused on improving his social life and fought to get him into a yeshiva. That never meant we didn’t value his education or believed he could learn. We just knew that his path to adulthood would unlikely be an academic one.
Armed with a wonderful sense of humor, and strong desire to be part of the action, Jacob settled into a program housed in a mainstream yeshiva, and flourished. He became more independent. His speech drastically improved, and his learning became more meaningful.
Over the following years he reminded us that his next stop would be Yeshiva University.
This topic became a recurring source of heartbreak for all of us. No adaptive program existed yet at YU, so Jacob could never fit in. We reached out to every contact we knew, searching for a solution. He needed not only an academic match, but a program capable of managing his physical needs. We knew that Dr. Stephen Glicksman shared this vision and had already spent years trying to put it into action. Suddenly, it seemed, things began to click.
Trying to remain patient, Jacob requested daily updates. When he learned about the Makor Program—an opportunity to study as his own pace, combined with a strong vocational focus, in the collegiate atmosphere of his dreams—he was thrilled.
He began telling everyone he was YU-bound before a Makor application was even printed. On June 6th, 2017, Jacob received his Makor letter of acceptance. There are no words to give justice to that moment.
Today, Jacob lives in Washington Heights. He davens in a YU minyan, eats meals with friends, has a spot in the Beis alongside mainstream students, and attends campus activities. He may choose to hang out with his brother or opt for a night in with the other MCE students. They enjoy making dinner together, going to the gym, and doing local errands.
He is excited to further explore what career opportunities will best suit him, and can’t wait to start building his resume. But if you ask him today what his biggest accomplishment is, he will tell you that he took the subway, for the first time ever, to get pizza.
Debby Adler lives in Teaneck, NJ with her husband Hillel and their 4 sons: Elie, Jacob, Zach and Sam.