web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

What I Learn From My Super Son

Rabbi Cohen and Yedidya

Rabbi Cohen and Yedidya

There is always some tension surrounding Super Bowl Sunday as one decides whether to watch the big game with friends or go it alone. I have a friend who makes a compromise. He watches the first half with friends – or, as he explains, “the novices,” those who aren’t “real” fans – but the second half, generally the more intense part of the game, he watches alone.

For me, the choice is an easy one.

I watched the first quarter of the big game this year with a huge football fan and my very special football friend. His name is Yedidya and he is my eldest child. He is seven and a half years old and he has Down syndrome, but more importantly, he loves football. He loves it so much that he sleeps in his Dallas Cowboys uniform (confession – I helped him pick my favorite team). He also can’t wait for his issue of Sports Illustrated to arrive in the mail each week – hopefully with a football player on the cover.

I enjoy streaming a game on my computer while Yedidya sits on my lap and always roots for the “red team.” Sometimes we are lucky enough to actually have a team with a red uniform playing on the screen before us, like San Francisco in this year’s Super Bowl. Sometimes not, but that doesn’t dull his enthusiasm for the tackling, kicking and general movement on the screen.

Football is a raw game and it can stir genuine emotions. In the wildcard round of this year’s playoffs, Robert Griffin III (RG3), the Redskins’ star rookie quarterback, wearing a red uniform, went down with a terrible knee injury. Yedidya immediately pointed to the screen and poignantly exclaimed “Daddy – sick!” He was genuinely pained by the spectacle of the player sprawled on the ground in obvious agony.

Yedidya isn’t the most articulate child just yet, but his purity of spirit and sensitivity are very evident when it comes to feeling the pain of others. Watching RG3 crumpled on the ground, his articulate father could not have expressed the moment any more succinctly, meaningfully or compassionately.

This past Shabbos, I was singing a niggun at my Shabbos table and was gently tapping my drinking glass to the beat of the song. Somehow, the flimsy glass completely shattered and cut my finger. The adults at the table realized quickly that it was a surface wound and no glass had penetrated the finger. Yedidya ran to the phone, picked it up and began saying “ambulance.” He doesn’t know how to call 911, and I strongly prefer that he doesn’t pick up the phone unnecessarily on Shabbos, but the sentiment was incredibly touching.

I recently finished reading a life-altering book – Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown. It discusses having the courage to be vulnerable and how this perceived “weakness” can actually transform our lives. At a point in the book, the author quotes Pema Chodron, a spiritual guru, who writes: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (This concept is also expressed in the title of another interesting book, The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen.)

I thought of my special son when I read these lines. Maybe subconsciously, because he is “wounded” or “imperfect,” he is able to express real compassion and potentially be a healer of sorts. It’s ironic, because many don’t perceive a developmentally disabled person as their equal.

I would posit that at the core, developmentally challenged individuals may even be superior to the typically functioning. They sometimes lack the inhibition or cognition to hide their vulnerability, but that is what makes them our “equals” in critical moments. Imagine spontaneously expressing intense care or feelings for another while being completely indifferent to how it will be perceived by those observing. Imagine being free from all the silliness and protocols that often dictate our lives.

The more esoteric sections of Jewish tradition confirm this analysis. They teach that the disabled possess a higher or more pure soul than others. Their physical or intellectual blemishes remove a barrier to their spiritual charisma, which is not the case in typically functioning people. The great mid-twentieth century scholar Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, popularly known as the Chazon Ish, would regularly stand up for such individuals.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, an intriguing story about an avid fan came to light in the sports media. Matthew Jeffers, a senior majoring in acting at Towson University in Maryland, wrote an e-mail in late 2012 to the now-Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, his favorite NFL team. It was a perspective of his struggles with skeletal dysplasia, in relation to the struggles of winning a Super Bowl, with the ultimate lesson that life is not fair, that it “does not care about three-game losing streaks, or four-game win streaks…. The only disability in life is a bad attitude…. A positive attitude is the most positive combatant to life’s misfortunes.”

February has been designated North American Inclusion Month (NAIM) by Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union devoted to supporting individuals with special needs. What inspires me every day is the attitude of people like my Yedidya and Matthew Jeffers. They live life without fear and they confront new challenges each and every day. They have terrific attitudes. In this month, when we focus on shifting our attitudes toward the special-needs population, our task may just be to emulate these exceptional people in our midst.

Many of us have unfortunate attitudes. We fail to fully be there for others because we are too busy being focused on ourselves and our issues and problems. We let the vicissitudes of life too easily knock us down. It takes a spiritual giant to truly feel the pain of another and to be an “equal” in the truest sense.

My son’s disability does and will allow him to continue to give others this terrific gift of compassion and shared humanity. I choose to watch football with Yedidya over others because he not only makes me laugh with his enthusiasm and descriptions of the game but also because he teaches me profound lessons about the game of life.

About the Author: Dovid M. Cohen, Esq., is rabbi of Young Israel of the West Side in Manhattan (www.yiws.org).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “What I Learn From My Super Son”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a government meeting.
Proposed Conversion Bill, Change in Local Rabbinate Power Nixed by Netanyahu
Latest Indepth Stories
Map of Syria-Turkish border area, pinpointing Kurdish border town of Kobani, just taken by ISIS terror forces Oct 7, 2014.

Turkey and Iran the 2 regional powers surrounding the ISIS conflict gain from a partial ISIS victory

The Rosenstrasse area of Berlin, where Jewish husbands of non-Jewish German wives were held.

Emigration from Israel is at an all-time low, far lower than immigration to Israel from Europe.

NY rally against Met Opera's 'Death of Klinghoffer' opera. Sept. 22, 2014.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

Guess who's behind the door?

Do you seriously think that as you kidnap our children we should medically treat and help yours?

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

The Arab Spring has challenged Jordan with the task of gradual reform with regard to its monarchy.

Israel offered Syria the entire Golan Heights, only to find that the Syrians were demanding MORE!

Israeli hasbara too can be described at best as pathetic, at worst non existent.

A ‘good news’ story from the Nepal avalanche disaster to warm your heart. Take out your Kleenex.

Journalists see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as morality play: Israel=evil; Palestine=innocent

Warsaw Ghetto: At its height, the Nazis walled in some 500,000 Jews within the1.3 square mile area.

While police officers face dangers every day on the job, Jews also face danger in their daily lives.

Carter developed a fondness for Arafat believing “they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God”

If Hamas is ISIS, the world asks, why didn’t Israel destroy it given justification and opportunity?

That key is the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza – as the U.S., EU, and others agreed to in principle at the end of Operation Protective Edge.

We have no doubt there are those who deeply desire to present themselves as being of a gender that is not consistent with their anatomy, and we take no joy in the pain and embarrassment they suffer.

More Articles from Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen
Torah Curtain (detail) (2011) by Mark Podwal Fabricated by Penn and Fletcher Courtesy Yeshiva University Museum

There are three Jewish crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.

Shimon Peres speaking at funeral service for Gilad, Naftali and Eyal

“Am HaNetzach Eino Mefached Mi Derech Aruka” (An eternal people doesn’t fear the long journey).

The first month of 2014 has brought an intense high and a profound low.

At some point I noticed an arresting picture on his wall and discovered that his maternal grandfather was Rav Dovid Lifshitz.

There is always some tension surrounding Super Bowl Sunday as one decides whether to watch the big game with friends or go it alone. I have a friend who makes a compromise. He watches the first half with friends – or, as he explains, “the novices,” those who aren’t “real” fans – but the second half, generally the more intense part of the game, he watches alone.

It’s been a rough few weeks. It began with the news of a heinous crime just blocks from where I live on Manhatan’s Upper West Side: a nanny viciously took the lives of her two young charges. Hurricane Sandy came next, contributing additional loss of life and financial devastation of a magnitude never before experienced by our East Coast brethren.

I once heard a story about a single man struggling to find a spouse. His main challenge was his insistence that a potential mate permanently welcome his widowed mother into their marital home. A friend suggested that he speak with the great authority, Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l. The man shared with the Rav his delicate predicament. The Rav validated the man’s approach as acceptable. Sometime later, the man met his bashert, the special woman willing to live with his mom. They returned to Rav Shlomo Zalman for his blessing. Surprisingly, the Rav called the man aside and told him that they cannot live with his mother anymore. The young man was shocked. After all, on the previous visit, the Rav had supported his desire to find a woman who would accept their living with his mother.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-i-learn-from-my-super-son/2013/02/20/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: