Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I would like to comment on two recent columns. One was on your answer to the woman who had recently given birth to a child with Down Syndrome. She wanted to keep the baby but her father and husband were not supportive.
Your advice was perfect. Certainly there are still challenges to parents of a child with any kind of special needs. However, the help available has improved dramatically in the last several decades. Children with Down Syndrome can receive many different kinds of therapy in their lives.
The attitude of the Jewish community has also changed to a large extent. Acceptance and appropriate help and support is now available in many Jewish schools and there are jobs available to many people with Down Syndrome. Some colleges even offer special programs for them. Today children with Down Syndrome can and do become active participants at their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.
I never worked with children who had intellectual challenges but almost forty years ago I did conduct a program for adults. The main focus was to prevent them from becoming victims of various kinds of abuse because of their vulnerabilities. Almost all of the people in the program had been taken advantage of in various ways.
I especially remember one young man who had Down Syndrome. We were showing a documentary on date-rape and he began crying. A staff member took him out of the room to calm him down. When he composed himself enough to rejoined the group he shared with us the reason as to why he had burst into tears. First of all he had a sister and never wanted her to suffer that way. Secondly, he had been sexually assaulted several times by staff members at the institution where he had once lived.
When my own children were in a Jewish grade school there were some children with special needs who had to drop out and switch to public school because there were no support services offered. My husband (who was a teacher) and I were concerned about this so he went to the Jewish Board of Education in our city and asked that help be offered at all the Jewish schools. He was told (and I am not joking) that there were no Jewish children with special needs!
Thank G-d things have changed and help is now available. No, it is not easy, but there is so much more hope now. I hope this woman’s husband and son-in-law and all family members will read your column and will realize that keeping the baby is the right thing to do!
The other column was in a most recent issue of the paper. I want to applaud the advice you gave to this woman. Yes, she does know (or should) that she should have left this man long ago. Now, as you said, she sees that her son has been influenced by his father’s behavior. Undoubtedly, too, her daughters think this is the right way for a man to behave. It is possible that she will take your suggestion regarding the therapy. Whether her husband will permit her to do so is another matter. It is even less likely that he will agree to go to a therapist himself. perhaps giving her the final push she needs to finally leave him.
In case you were wondering what gives me the right to comment in both these cases, I worked for non-profit agencies devoted to the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence, for many years. As you well know, the women who are victims of domestic violence often say they stayed in their abusive marriages for their children. It is only when it becomes clear to them that their children are being harmed and not helped by this that them try to find the courage to leave.
I remember one woman who thought her young son (9 or 10 years old) didn’t know about her abuse, which usually took place after the child went to bed. Then, one night she came upstairs to find her son sitting on the top-most step. She asked him why he was sitting there and his answer was that if he saw his father striking her again he would be able to run down and protect her. That finally gave her the motivation to leave.
Thank you so much for your critique and kind words for the column. It means so much coming from someone who has been personally involved with these issues for so many years. It is so important to hear from my fellow warriors in the ever constant battle to right the wrongs that are so often swept out of sight and trivialized by the Klal because it is easier to deny they exist than to fight for the changes that will bring about the solution to the problems. For me, personally, it has been an ongoing war for the past 45 years. It gives me great hope when I hear from a sister soldier saying she sees the changes over the decade and, albeit that the war still goes on, we can keep fighting, one case at a time, to eradicate the tolerance of abuse and injustice of every kind. Only then will we be zoche to welcome Moshiach and the geulah in our lifetime.
And, to all the wonderful readers of this column, I ask you not to look away when you see anyone in pain, anyone alone and lost, anyone who is frightened and needs help. As yidden, it behooves us to look out for one another and if we cannot do it alone, then reach out to the many fine organizations who will readily partner with you to help or save anyone in need. Always remember that we are responsible for each other and that ….”we are our brothers’ keeper.”