When I was little I thought that becoming a bar mitzvah was about learning to read the Torah and putting on tefillin. But as it gets closer I realize it is also about taking on some important adult responsibilities, like thinking of others. So in preparation for my upcoming bar mitzvah this spring I decided to "twin" with a child with disabilities from Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana, Israel.
I know a lot about Beit Issie because my parents have been involved there since before I was born. It’s not only a school for children with developmental disabilities, but also a place where they teach therapists from all over the world new things.
Every time my family travels to Israel we always visit Beit Issie, and I love to see the cool ways that they help kids. One of my favorite therapy rooms is the “snoezelen,” which is kind of this dark room with plush cushions you can jump on and funky colored lights. It’s so calming and relaxing, but fun at the same time.
When we went to Israel last month for the Succot holiday I got to meet my ‘twin’, Roi. I was pretty nervous because I don’t really have any friends with disabilities and I didn’t know if he could talk and even if he could, would he understand my American Hebrew? All I knew from the people at Beit Issie was that Roi has cerebral palsy, is in a motorized wheelchair and loves soccer. Soccer is my favorite sport, too. We bought Roi a jersey and I wore my Argentina one for our meeting day.
We came to Beit Issie on a Friday, just in time for their weekly Shabbat party. It was pretty similar to what we have in our school here in New Jersey: sitting around in a circle, singing Shabbat songs. My little sister right away began clapping and singing along. I saw that all of the kids were really into it, even the ones who couldn’t sing. Every child has his own special teacher to help him, and Roi’s teacher brought me to sit next to him.
After the singing was over we had time to talk, and I couldn’t believe how funny Roi was. He kept wheeling his chair around to go backward, and laughing. He had a little bit of a hard time talking but he listened really well to me and at the end, he even said, “I love you,” in English.
Meeting Roi helped me realize how lucky I am to be healthy, and how important it is to help people – especially children – who are not as lucky. I decided to ask all of my friends to skip giving me bar mitzvah gifts, and instead to give money to Beit Issie so they can help Roi get better. I hope that someday Roi will be able to get out of that wheelchair and we can play soccer together.
To celebrate your Bar/Bat Mitzvah with a Beit Issie Shapiro family experience day contact: Audrey@beitissie.org.il
Zachary Wolf is in 7th grade at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, NJ. He lives in Teaneck with his two sisters and parents, Rebecca and Daniel Wolf, who are on the Board of American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro. Zachary plays on his town’s travel soccer team.