I am honored to share this article I wrote for the newly launched Jewish Disability Inclusion News (you can check out their site here)
For the last few weeks, I have found myself mulling over a particularly painful incident that took place in Israel and made waves in the news and on social media. It involved a man and his ten-year-old son, who were rudely asked to leave a Beit Knesset in Tel Aviv because the child was autistic. The Rabbi had decided that his occasional vocalizations would “disrupt” prayers. He was adamant that they leave and spoke to them in a highly insulting manner.
When I saw a clip of the incident, my heart broke for both the father and son. I literally flinched from the wave of pain and anger that traveled through my body. I remembered all the situations where I had experienced something similar as a parent of an autistic child and his neurodivergent siblings.
I wished there was a way for me to explain to the child that he should try to disregard what the Rabbi had said because he had made a terrible mistake. Apparently, he had forgotten a few fundamental aspects of Judaism: we are all divine individuals that HaShem created as He wants us to be (therefore, no individual is superior to another, and everyone should be treated respectfully and equally), and the mitzvah of “ahavta l’reyacha c’mocha (love thy neighbor as thyself), which one says before prayers, and in essence, helps the prayers be accepted.
The fact that such an incident can occur demonstrates that the Rabbi, and many other people I have encountered along the way, have some fundamental misconceptions about neurodiversity, spirituality, and community.