The following is a d'var Torah delivered by Devorah Zlochower, the mother of some incredible children, a powerful teacher of Torah, and the spouse of a colleague and incredible teacher of Torah himself, Rabbi Dov Linzer, in honor of the Bar Mitzvah of her son, Kasriel. Kasriel is a beautiful Jewish soul and a child with autism. Devorah and Dov have written powerfully in other places on the topic of the the Jewish community and support for Jewish families with children with autism (http://rabbidovlinzer.blogspot.com/2009/11/invisible-disability-kids-are-being.html). This piece brings tears to my eyes and is a reminder of how the Jewish world can change with just a little openness and vision. Mazal Tov, Kasriel!:
Shabbat shalom, good Shabbos to all of you and welcome to our son Kasriel’s bar mitzvah. I can’t believe we are here!
Kasriel, Daddy and I are so incredibly proud of you! You have earned this moment in the sun and have demonstrated that you are indeed a bar mitzvah – a young man ready and capable of taking on more responsibilities and of filling your place in the Jewish community and the larger world.
Although it might look like Daddy and I have taught you, in truth, you have been teaching us since the moment you were born. I want to spend a little time sharing with you some of the many lessons you have taught me.
First of all, Kasriel you have taught me to look at the world with new eyes. Because you have tried to share with me some of your artistic sensibilities and you have tried to train my eye to notice some of the myriad details that you see, you have taught me to notice the red hawk flying in the sky, the insect crawling on a leaf, the sound of a buzzing fly and the thousands upon thousands of details that make up God’s beautiful world.
Kasriel you have cherished nature since you were a baby. Your first word was “bird” which you said one day when we were taking a walk down in Florida. And since then you have embraced the outdoors. You take responsibility for nature and have taught us not only to appreciate but to understand that we have a responsibility to safeguard our precious, natural world.
Kasriel, you have also taught me the pleasures of the small things. You appreciate not just the birthday gift that a friend gives you but also the wrapping paper. For all of you sitting out there who have ever given anything to Kasriel, written a note, or sent him an invitation, you can be sure that it is sitting somewhere in his room. While this saving has been a real challenge for me who likes to throw things out, I have become a little more aware that things for you represent the people you love and that it is important to hold onto the things that remind us of the people who are important to our lives.
But the most important thing you have taught me, Kasriel, is the value of hard work. You work hard at everything you do. Sometimes, I know that you wish you didn’t have to work so hard, but you persevere. And because of that you have learned, that it is hard work that ultimately gets us where we need to get to in life. Some of us don’t learn that lesson until much later in life and the hard way, but you have learned that lesson young and well. Daddy and I are so proud of the effort you put into everything – into your school work, into your friendships and the huge amount of effort you put into this day. May your efforts continue to be rewarded and may you indeed continue growing into the extraordinary, talented, kind young man you have started becoming.
Kasriel, you are already a fine young man and a proud Jew. Daddy and I know that when we send you off to school every day that we are sending off a wonderful ambassador for the Jewish people. You wear your kippah with pride, you check that the food you eat is kosher, you are a proud advocate of the state of Israel, and you do this all with a sensitivity that brings a kesser shem tov, the crown of a good name to the Jewish people. The way you move in the world and between your worlds show maturity way beyond your years and I am simply in awe of you.
On this day and every day, I want you to remember how incredibly proud we are of you and how proud you should be of yourself. You are a sensitive friend, a responsible older brother, a hardworking bright student, a talented artist, a friend of all God’s creations, and a terrific son! I am proud to be your mom and I hope you got some sense of the pride and joy I take in you. Mazel tov my son; I love you very much.
Dov and I are so grateful that each of you is participating in our son Kasriel’s bar mitzvah. When I began thinking about this bar mitzvah (about 8 years ago) and when Dov and I actually began planning it (about 1 and ½ years ago), we knew we needed it to be small to properly accommodate Kasriel’s needs. We knew that the people who we absolutely needed to have at Kasriel’s bar mitzvah were the people who have been instrumental in helping us raise Kasriel and bring him to this majestic moment. So here you all are and we realize, very concretely, that we have a wealth of people who have played such an important part of our lives. We are grateful to each of you for being part of our lives and for helping all of us reach this special day.
The people assembled here, as well as others who couldn’t make it today, comprise the multiple communities that we call ours. One of the most special aspects of our family life have been the wonderful communities that we have been introduced to through our children: the Aaron School and Aaron Academy community and we are so glad that Kasriel’s teacher, Tracy Haber could join us, the Camp Our Victory community, the Camp Yofi community, the Kol Hayeladim community, as well as our base community, our wonderful Bayit led by Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rabbi Steven Exler and Rabba Sara Hurwitz. We are particularly grateful to Rabbi Avi and Toby Weiss for all the love and support they have showered on our family and feel extremely privileged that our sons have a close relationship with such incredible role models.
Today is a celebration of Kasriel’s accomplishments and having reached this important milestone in his growth as a Jew and as a human being, and I would be deeply remiss if I did not express a small measure of our thanks to some of the people who have nurtured Kasriel to this point. I want to express our deepest gratitude to Dr. Elisa Cruz who has worked with Kasriel for close to 7 years and has played such a significant role in his life. I want to recognize as well Dr. Ellen Linsky, Kasriel’s reading tutor, who has taught him and loved him and shared so many of her passions with him.
I want to give a special thanks to Lupe Michaca. Lupe has been my not so secret partner in raising the boys these past few years. She loves them and lets them know it and she has handled the after school time with great skill. She has also blessed our boys with her children, Anahly and David. Anahly has been a big sister to our boys as well as a wonderful babysitter; thank you, Anahly for taking such great care of Netanel and Kasriel.
Our sons’ Jewish education has not taken a conventional path and we are overwhelmed to have found such creative people who have taken as great an interest in our sons’ Jewish lives as we have. Kasriel has been tutored in Hebrew by a very special man with whom he has formed a close relationship. Dr. Meir Rotem has been teacher, friend and honorary Sabba to Kasriel who besides learning with Kasriel has shared his love of Jewish texts and the land of Israel. We are so grateful that you and Gloria could join us, Meir.
Our dear friends, Bat Sheva and Elliot, have provided a second home for us and have been patient, loving friends to our Kasriel and Netanel as well as amazing role models. We want to particularly thank Bat Sheva for working with Kasriel this year on Hebrew reading and for putting together the magnificent book of Kasriel’s drawings related to his Torah portion.
Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom has become an incredibly important part of our lives – it is the place where Jewish community and special ed. community come together for us. It is the place where we are truly ourselves in all our dimensions. We are so happy that Ayala Wasser, Kasriel’s havera from last summer is here with us and we are especially grateful that the Rosenbaum family has joined us today. Sandi and Dan invited us to Max’s bar mitzvah after we met at our first Camp Yofi, and it is at Max’s bar mitzvah that Kasriel said to me, “ I think I want to read the Torah.” So thank you Sandi and Dan and thank you Max for providing us with the inspiration for today.
We are beyond grateful that so much of our family has joined us at this simchah. We are truly overwhelmed by your presence and the substantial effort it took to come here. Whether it was traveling a great distance or coming with, thank God, many children in tow, or both – we are so very grateful. Although our family is dispersed – Israel, Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Upstate and New Jersey, you have always been there for us to lend a hand, an ear, or support and advice. We are particularly grateful to our parents, Bubbe and Zeide Zlochower and Zeide Linzer who have been such important influences in Kasriel’s and Netanel’s lives and have read hundreds of books, purchased hundreds of action figures, thousands of Lego pieces, and listened to hours upon hours about dinosaurs and animals. We want to also express our gratitude to Dov’s aunts, Aunt Diane, Aunt Estie and Aunt Marguerite who have worked lovingly, graciously and subtly to fill the hole left by the passing of Dov’s beloved mother and Kasriel’s grandmother, Annette Linzer whom we miss very much today. Bubbe Linzer was present at Kasriel’s bris and got to see Kasriel named after her father, Rabbi Leonard Mishkin. She is very much in our thoughts today and Dov and I feel her gentle guidance all the time.
I want to give special mention to a very special person who plays the most significant role in Kasriel’s life, Netanel Linzer. Netanel, your wisdom and your big, big heart amaze and inspire us every day. You are Kasriel’s constant companion, the person he confides in the most, and the guy who slips him answers to math problems. You are more than just a brother, you are a friend. Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you and we can’t wait for your bar mitzvah in 2 and ½ years.
Finally, we want to thank all of you – our friends. Because our parents and many of our siblings live out of town, we rely very heavily on our friends. Many, many of you have helped in substantial ways with this bar mitzvah and we are thankful for opening your homes, helping shlep, lending us a Torah and helping two busy, not so organized people get through this rather large job. We are very aware that especially with children with special needs, community and friends become critically important for support, for advice, for names of doctors, for a shoulder to cry on or sometime just a grim joke. We are so grateful to our friends who have offered us so much support – we could not do it without you, really.
אחרון אחרון חביב to my dear husband and partner in crime, Dov, this bar mitzvah, like the raising of our sons and so much else we do, has been a real partnership. I did not make this bar mitzvah, Dov and I did it together. And I do not take that for granted. You were there and are there for me always. I could not hope for a better role model for our sons. We have learned much in this journey of raising our sons and it has not always been easy. You have learned to do the impossible, to be a Torah scholar of the highest caliber and not impose that particular ambition on our sons, you teach them but you also make it clear that that you learn from them and appreciate who they are. Our sons know the role you play in our community but they are not intimidated by it. I am grateful to you for so much and I love you very much. Mazel tov, honey.