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Why being included is lots better than being ‘special’

We had a visitor recently who works in special ed in the US. She was going crazy over ds4 – she couldn’t keep her eyes off of him in shul on Simchas Torah- and later on she couldn’t stop talking about how ‘special’ he was.

‘Special’ is a word that I don’t particularly care for so I asked her what she meant.  She seemed taken aback – ‘you can’t see that he’s special?”  “All my kids are special,” I responded.  “What’s special about Yirmi?”

She told me she works with many kids with Trisomy 21 of different ages and he’s not typical of kids with that diagnosis.  She said he acts like a typical kid, he’s so ‘with it’ and ‘so smart’. Okay, that kind of special I can agree with.  :)

Well, that launched a long talk (monologue? :)) on my opinion about why Yirmi is the way he is and why inclusion is critical and why special ed is not so special and how at least 80% of kids with T21 could be doing just as well or better than him if they had proper support.  She was fascinated by my perspective.  But she apparently had never met a parent with my outlook, because she asked me a few times in disbelief, “You really believe that how he is being raised made the difference?  And you don’t think he would be better off in special ed with professionals?”

Yes, I know that how a child is raised affects his brain development.  Yes, our home environment is critical to supporting his development.  No, I don’t think we’re remarkable or have done anything that couldn’t easily be replicated by others.  No, I don’t think he would be better off in a special ed setting.  I don’t think anyone is better off in a special ed setting than with appropriate and well-mediated inclusion.

Yirmi is being raised in a family where he’s one of the gang.  He’s expected to act appropriately, to express himself, to be helpful and kind – the same as we expect of any of our children. We assume he will develop on his own timeline and while we give him support and encouragement, we don’t pressure him – just like our other kids.  Being treated like everyone else is really important and I think this is a huge factor in how well Yirmi is doing.

Everyone wants to belong.  Everyone wants to be part of.  No one wants to be ‘special’.  I firmly believe that the more we treat others with compassion, acceptance, appreciation and inclusion, the better the outcome is for all of us.  Not only does each individual child flourish in that environment, it makes the world a much kinder, gentler and more beautiful world to live in – for all of us.


Thank you for blog feedback!

Thank you to those of you who shared your feedback in response to my request.  It was helpful to me to read what was written and to see what wasn’t written!  This has prompted some thinking about how I’m using my time and how to offer maximum value to my readers.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m writing is of help or not.  I share about what’s on my mind but I don’t know if that’s what you want to hear about!  Hearing what you appreciate and what has been of help to you is so valuable to me.  Your responses also show me that my efforts are appreciated – it’s truly your feedback that keeps me blogging when I’m pressed to do so many other things.

If you’d like to leave feedback and haven’t yet had the chance, it’s not too late!  I’m always happy to have an idea of who is reading and what brings someone here and keeps them reading.


Nine year blog anniversary!

It’s hard for me to believe that nine years ago today I began this blog!

The blogosphere has changed dramatically and many blogs have come and gone during this time.  Some say that people aren’t interested in reading blogs anymore but the number of you reading keeps me writing!

I have a surprisingly varied readership and yet somehow you’re all reading here together!  As I begin a new year of blogging I would love your feedback as to what topics are of most interest and value to you.

Please take a few minutes to share with me your thoughts on the following

– Has reading this blog affected you and if so, in what way?

– What topics do you find of most value?  Why?

– What topics would you like to see more of?

– (Any other comments or thoughts are also welcome!)

Hearing what the impact of this blog has been on you and what you want to read more of will help me focus the time I set aside for blogging so it will be of maximum value to you all.  If you’d like to have a say in the direction of this blog, please crawl out of the anonymity of the computer screen and share your thoughts with me in the comments section below!

Thanks for a wonderful nine years and I look forward to another great year to come!



Feeling unsettled about moving but it’s short term discomfort

People have asked how we’re settling in to our new home in Ramat Beit Shemesh, so here’s the update!

Right now I’m feeling uncomfortable and unsettled.  It’s normal to be uncomfortable and unsettled after you move!  I’m giving myself a year to get acclimated.  Of course it would be wonderful if the kids all had friends and I had friends and I knew where to go for whatever I needed as well as how to get there.  But for now I don’t and it’s okay for it to take time.

Life is busy and while I appreciate any and all efforts to welcome us, I know that I can’t expect those who are already here to reach out to me.   I need to be proactive and reach out to others.  I was sick for the last couple of weeks and had very, very little energy but now that I’m feeling better I’m thinking about how to best do that.

Despite the short term discomforts of moving, everyone is happy we moved here!  We love our new apartment, my husband and older boys quickly found a shul that they’re comfortable at, there’s a weekly homeschool meetup  that we’re participating in and I love that it’s so much easier for our older kids to get home to spend Shabbos with us with their travel time being drastically cut down!

I could go on at length about the challenges of moving and I could also go on at length about the things that I love about being here, but instead I’ll say that while it will take time until I’m fully settled in, I can see that there’s a lot of potential for connection and contribution here.


Our pain, the unspeakable emotional agony of a nation….

A few weeks ago someone called me and asked, “Why is it that bad things happen to amazing people?”

I told her, people become amazing over the course of time and it’s the tragedy or difficulties that reveal the shining diamonds they are.

This has been something I’ve thought about for the last 18 days, as in every report of the parents of the three kidnapped teens I’ve been struck by how special each family is.

Every single boy that was kidnapped – a gem.  Smart, caring, responsible, gifted: youth counselors, musicians, composers, bakers.  Each one of a large family raised with boundless love and strong Torah values.

A picture of the two sixteen year olds a day before they were kidnapped with friends; Gil-ad on the center part of the tier and Naftali (US citizen) on the bottom. Regular kids on a spring day? Look closely - Gilad and Naftali the day before they were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Abbas, step up and bring them home!</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Click on this blog and leave your comments, please.

Eyal Yifrach , a nineteen year old songwriter and guitarist, June 10 a few days before his kidnapping sings one of his original compositions with a friend (Eyal is in the white t-shirt).  He commented right before they sang that he looked forward to singing this in the near future at this friend’s wedding.  I put this on my playlist and have listened to it often, praying all the time for his safe return along with the other two boys.

Here’s Eyal singing another original composition that he wrote in honor of his cousin’s wedding and performed for her then.  This was two months before the kidnapping.   My sister commented on the strong resemblance between Eyal and one of my sons.  Yes, I also noticed it right away.

And then their parents… These parents…the faith and strength they have displayed has been amazing.  They have spoken of trust in God, in the strength of the Jewish people and with the full belief that their sons will return home, healthy and safe.  Every single parent has inspired us all.

Last night between 85,000 – 100,000 people came together in Tel Aviv, people from across the religious spectrum – to pray for the safe return of our boys.  The kind of event that the families wanted, that their sons would have wanted.  A gathering of solidarity and unity.  That’s how the people of Israel feel – they are ours.

I read the reports today of the Tel Aviv gathering, thinking how the Jewish people coming together in this way, setting aside politics, is bringing completion and wholeness to the world.  We so desperately need unity, and these last 18 days have brought our tiny little country together.

So many prayers, so many tears, so many good deeds done as a merit for the safe return of our boys… And now they’ve been found.  Truly.

My first reaction was one of delight and disbelief – found, so soon after the gathering!  God has heard our prayers!

And then I saw the next line of the message…and I burst into bitter sobs.  No, no, no!!  Not this, it can’t be.  It must be a false report, false rumors…I wouldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it.

It was true.  It is true.  This afternoon our boys were found murdered, buried together in a shallow grave in a field near an Arab village.

It is believed that they were shot shortly after their abduction, with the intent to exchange their bodies for the release of Arab terrorists.

Below, the windows of the army ambulance Humvee transporting the bodies of our slain boys are smashed, stoned by Arabs as they are returned home for burial.

8:44pm IDF Ambulance humvee transporting the bodies of the boys attacked by smashed.

I have no words… what I’m feeling threatens to overwhelm me.  I think that most of us are feeling something very similar tonight.  Deep, deep sadness, followed by horror, rage, fury – these are some of the emotions racing through us all.

I have no wisdom…I know that our prayers were not in vain, that the merits of all the good deeds performed have been gathered and are being saved for our nation, while simultaneously accompanying our boys on their journey in the next world.  But the pain, the gut-wrenching pain…

Our boys…now sitting in the highest Heavenly spheres.

left to right: Naftali Frenkel (16), Gil-ad Sha’ar(16), Eyal Yifrach (19)
I asked you to say tehillim/psalms for the boys with the hope they would be found.  Please join in the saying of tehillim for them now, as a continued merit for their souls.  You can participate online here.

May their memories be a blessing, may we continue to hold on to the incredible feelings of unity that we had these past 18 days and may God avenge their blood.

Jo Corre Odes's photo.


Please pray for the parents of the boys, and for the siblings that each leaves behind (Eyal was the oldest of 7, Naftali and Gil-ad both the second of 7), that they find whatever they need inside themselves to cope with this horror.


What’s been keeping me from blogging this week…

This morning I realized it was already Thursday which means it’s been almost a week since I’ve written anything here!

I’ve been busy with a few things.  Firstly I traveled to Jerusalem on Monday to speak about homeschooling to a lovely group of women that evening.  We met in a suburb of Jerusalem, so it wasn’t a very central location and it was amazing to see women coming from so far out of their way to attend – Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, Efrat, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Kochav Yaakov, and of course from Jerusalem and Telzstone.  I enjoyed it very much.   I recorded the talk and this morning asked dh if he can help me edit it into sections (with two speakers and a long Q and A session it’s really long) so I can post it here for those of you who are interested to listen to.  Hoping to get to that tonight.  Hoping!

I stayed overnight in Telzstone together with the other mom who spoke, and we shared a one room guest apartment together.  That was so fun – we’ve known each other for at least five years when we first met in person (had ‘known’ each other online before then)and it was a mom’s sleepover with us staying up late to talk.  Really, really nice.

In the meantime, dh was holding down the fort at home.  Just a few days before ds6 asked me when we would be able to go to the science center in Haifa again; we had gone in September when there was free admission for science night and everyone had a wonderful time.   I told him we’d try to go in the fall again when it’s science night.  Two days after his question I learned that there would be free admission to museums around the country on Monday and made plans to take the kids.  Then the opportunity to speak for the homeschooling gathering came up and that meant traveling on Monday so dh took the kids instead.  They literally had a field day!

I’ve also been busy this week with a number of emails from people interested in making aliyah.  It’s the time of year for pilot trips and planned aliyah dates are coming close, so people are in the deciding stage about where in the country they are going to move to.  I’ve been glad to have been able to help out but I have a limited amount of online time, so responding to the questions has cut into my blogging time.  People are reading my older posts on Karmiel trying to get a sense what it’s like living here and since I’ve written those, things have continued to evolve here so there are aspects that need to be updated.  I’m getting further and further backed up on posts and I want to say that I’m going to write about some of the issues that are coming up in emails on a regular basis since it’s important, but….

I’ve had some important parenting conversations this week that I also want to share with you, but once again my time constraints are making it unlikely I’m going to be able to get around to sharing that with you.  I’ve never had the typical blogger’s issue of not having anything to write about;  my problem is the opposite!  So many topics, so little time…..

I met with a homeopath last week and in addition to beginning homeopathic treatment  with her and getting a homeopathic gel to use on my face (now added to my daily rotation of three other creams!), she gifted me with some milk kefir grains.  Yesterday, for the first time since leaving America in August 2011, I started a batch of kefir!  I’m telling you, the little things in life are so exciting!  It should be ready to drink today.

While I’m talking about nutritional advances in my life…I made two four gallon batches of kimchi right before my accident seven weeks ago which was great because that was enough to last until now.  It’s time for me to get another batch started since I don’t want to run out!  (I try to make four gallons at a time since that works well for our family size – it requires a serious time commitment on my part since I don’t have a food processor.)

My favorite part of kimchi is the juice so last time I adapted my kimchi making to using lots of liquid so I end up with at least two or three gallons of probiotic juice to drink!  If it didn’t have such a cleansing effect (and if I could make enough to keep up with myself) I’d drink it all day long.  My kids started asking for it, too.  When I give them cod liver oil it’s followed by a kiddie vitamin C.  One day ds8 asked if he could have some kimchi to clear the cod liver oil flavor from his mouth and had his vitamin C afterwards.  Then naturally his brothers also wanted to do the same.  :)

Well, that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been busy with this week!


My world just got much smaller – or is it bigger?

facebook friendsLast night I was thinking about a couple of friends from elementary school and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe they were on Facebook.  After a very quick search, I found them and delighted in the opportunity to see pictures of what my eleven year old friends look like now – middle aged parents!  Like me, I suppose.  :)

For a year and a half when I was in fifth and sixth grades, my family lived in rural Mississippi.  I loved living there, though being an Orthodox family in an area where people had literally never seen Jews we were very much an anomaly.   A few years ago my great aunt told me that before we moved there, the local pastor organized a school assembly where he spoke to prepare the entire student body from elementary through high school for our arrival.  No doubt this is a big reason that we had what I remember as a smooth reception.

The other thing that helped is that we have family ties in the area that go way back.  As someone whose parents came to Judaism at an older age, we didn’t have any Orthodox relatives and we weren’t local to our secular Jewish relatives at any point of my life.  But when I moved to this rural area, suddenly I had family.   I still remember the warm feeling I had when people in school would come up to me and say something like, “You’re our third cousin once removed.”

Mississippi often gets spoken of derogatorily but I think Mississippi is wonderful in so many ways!  I loved the slower and simpler pace of life, and the family centered focus, where families stay put for generations in the same area.  My best friend from that time built a house on her parents’ property, her sister did the same, her first cousin lived in the house on the next property, her other first cousins lived in the property around the corner, and her grandmother lived a couple houses past that.  I’m assuming this all started off as her grandmother’s property.  (When I say property, I’m talking about something very large, not houses jammed on top of each other.  My great aunt’s property is over 100 acres and her grandson lives in a house on her property that’s a ten minute walk away; she told me she’d give me property to build a house if I’d come back, too.)  I’ve never experienced anything like that kind of rootedness since then.

I have very warm memories of my time living in Mississippi – I jumped on haystacks in the yard next to ours for fun, as a ten year old biked a mile and back to pick up items at the grocery in town for our parents with my best friend, and often would stand watching the cow grazing in the pasture on the other side of our house.  It was very rural, a very tiny town (I just checked the population census and as of 2012 it was 227 people), but it was so nice and I’ve gone back three times as an adult to visit.   One time I took my oldest daughter with me, and when I met with three school friends for dinner, one brought her daughter who was the same age.  Our daughters ended up having a sleepover – my friend remembered what they  had to do in order to accommodate me so many years before when I came to her home for a birthday sleepover and willingly accommodated my daughter in a similar manner.

My twentieth reunion for high school – had I continued there – was in September 2011 and when I was notified about it, I was seriously contemplating traveling there for it.  But in August 2011 our family moved to Israel so that obviously didn’t happen!

Well, thanks to Facebook I’ve now had an opportunity to reconnect with some of these people!  Not only that, I’m now connected to my second cousin in the area as well as my first cousin who I haven’t spoken to since she was about four.  I have some concerns about Facebook being a place of connections that are often not very meaningful but in this case, it’s creating an opportunity for connections that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I live a very different life from these friends and family members, and I’m grateful to have even a very casual way to stay in touch.


Avivah Michaelah bas Sara – Please Pray

On Monday afternoon a can of hot cosmetic wax exploded in Avivah’s face. She was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and is in their burn unit. She suffered 2nd degree burns on her whole face and neck.

The doctors said she is very fortunate that her glasses shielded her eyes or she would likely have been blinded. Her eyesight was not affected. The doctors are optimistic for a good recovery. At this point they told us she would be in the hospital for a week, but they will reassess in the coming days.


Avivah and our family would appreciate your prayers.

Edited to add – thank you to Yael Aldrich for setting up a tehillim sign up.  If you would like to participate, please sign up at this link –

Avivah’s DH


‘Brave’ – song with a powerful message


A couple of months ago, dd19 mentioned a song that she really liked the message of.  I asked her to send me a link so I could listen to it.


It turns out I had heard it before but since I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, I didn’t think much of it.  This time I looked up the lyrics and listened carefully and wow! – it was very powerful.  It was a message that I really needed to hear right then, a few days after having been hit by a car and feeling powerless and victimized.

So here’s the song – Brave, a remake by the Maccabeats of the original by Sara Bareilles.  (Dd wanted to make sure I realized this isn’t a Jewish song, though it’s sung by an Orthodox mens’ acapella group and I’m passing this info along to you.)

And here are the lyrics:

“Brave” – by Sara Bareilles


“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if youSay what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveWith what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be braveI just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be braveI just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be braveEverybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave.”


I have a couple of favorite phrases in this song but the entire message to me is something lots of us need to hear – have the courage to say how you really feel.  Don’t keep everything in because you’re afraid of what people will think of you, or because you’re afraid they won’t hear you.   It takes courage to find our inner strength when we’re not feeling strong.  It takes courage to to take off the mask that we put on because we think that’s what others want to see, be vulnerable and to say how you’re really feeling.