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I know I did. Awkward, uncomfortable etc. I generally tried to avoid them if I could. I couldn’t understand how friends of mine were able to spend their summers at camps like HASC. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful that they could do that, but it was definitely not for me. Feeding, dressing, washing and changing older kids diapers was not my idea of a good time. When I was living in New Jersey before we made Aliyah, there was a man named John who lived in our building. He was in his 50’s and was physically handicapped, but was fine mentally. Even more shocking to me was the he was married. I couldn’t understand what would make a “normal” woman want to spend her life married to someone who she would have to physically take care of her entire life. My wife was always so nice to him, always not just saying hello, but engaging him in conversation. It was very hard for John to speak and although I always smiled at him and said hello, I didn’t feel like I could speak to him for any longer than a minute or two.

I often thought about why I felt so uncomfortable around people with special needs. It wasn’t that I felt like they were contagious, I think it was really a combination of two things. 1) I didn’t really understand what they were about. In a way I felt like they had cooties and if I would just avoid them then somehow they would just go away. I didn’t stop to think that they were people just like me. That they loved to laugh and loved to be hugged. That they didn’t like to be stared at or that they just wanted to be treated like everyone else. 2) I tend to have a big heart and am a very sensitive person. I didn’t think I could emotionally handle someone who has special needs. It was too much in my face that this person has a “sad life” and a life made up of constant challenges. I couldn’t think that these kids could actually be happy and have a fulfilling life. Boy was I wrong in so many ways.

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In July of 2002 I moved to Israel with my wife and 2 year old daughter. A couple of months later on September 11th 2002 my first son Moishy was born in Jerusalem and my world would never be the same. We didn’t realize it when Moishy was born, but during routine testing when he was 3 months old at a baby clinic, they told us that his head was not growing and that he seemed to have some other issues and that we should do further testing. This news sent us on a crazy whirlwind of doctors, hospitals, cat scans, x-rays and more. The diagnosis was clear. Our beautiful little boy had cerebral palsy and microcephaly. I had my very own special needs child. In a few weeks Moishy will be 12 years old. There have been many challenges, operations, and other situations that only another parent of a special needs parent can relate to. When he was two and a half he contracted bacterial meningitis and was in a coma for a few days. The doctors said they have never heard of a child who already had brain damage get meningitis which also attacks the brain. Through an open miracle (whose story I can perhaps share another time), Moishy had a 100% full recovery from the meningitis whereas the doctors felt that if he did come out he was likely to be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. But the feeling of almost losing him and those weeks in the hospital brought me closer to him than I ever thought possible. When he came home I hugged him hard and have never let go.

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Nachum Kligman is the founder of Mianzi Fashion, the first apparel line that creates fashionable products for those with special needs and disabilities. He is also a business consultant and a writer and lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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