A Letter to a Friend
Avi! How ya doing? I've been trying to write for you for a while but it just hasn't happened.
I've been involved in an amazing project over the last 6 months, volunteering with disabled children.
It all started one Shabbat with the "Haverim-Friends for Health" organization. They needed volunteers and my friend Shmuel tried to convince me to come, nagging me for a whole day.
I'm not a bad person; I try help when I can, but what's with me and disabled kids? I can't bear to look at them. Their crushed bodies and slurred speech…no thanks, it's not for me. But Shmuel thought otherwise and got what he wanted. We got to the place an hour before Shabbat.
I was quite put off at the beginning. I saw kids in wheelchairs speaking about "standing" kids; I saw kids drooling and communicating with "speaking" people by drawing letters on paper and children with crutches playing soccer. I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you the first thing I thought of was "What the heck am I doing here? I'll show Shmuel a thing or two when we get back to Yeshiva!"
Shabbat came in and we went to pray. We had a Carlebach-style service and you wouldn't believe it! I saw disabled children praying! What? They can read! Aren't they retarded? Even kids with really severe disabilities were looking in the Siddur. And then the dancing began. The madrichim took the kids in the chairs and the others by the hand and danced just like we dance in Yeshiva. The kids were so happy and ecstatic.
At dinner we all sat round eating and singing Shabbat songs. To be honest, it was a bit repulsive to see the children eating but not only did I stop feeling repulsed after a while, I even helped some of them to eat.
The most moving part of the Shabbat was Seuda Shlishit (Third Meal.) The host families, volunteers and the children gathered in the dining hall to eat together. Just when I thought it was all over, someone moved into the center of the room and asked for quiet. He then called Danny (one of the kids) to come and describe how he'd felt over Shabbat.
Danny said how much he enjoyed it and how important these events are for him. Another seven kids came up after him and described their similar feelings.
Although I'm not the emotional type, there were tears in my eyes. What awesome chesed! I really think I got more out of this Shabbat than I gave. Instead of taking revenge on Shmuel I'm gonna give him some big hugs for bringing me here!
Avi, do you realize it's only because of Shmuel and that Shabbat that I came to know you?
If I hadn't agreed to Shmuel's persistence, I'd still be thinking all sorts of thoughts about you and I wouldn't have had the honor of getting to know you. Not to mention your wonderfully cheerful and optimistic personality, which is truly remarkable, seeing you spend most of your life in a wheelchair...