Whenever anyone – and especially parents – receive a diagnosis of any kind, the immediate reaction is to find out as much information as possible about the diagnosis and prognosis. Once that information is in hand, we go into problem-solving mode: What do we need to do? Whom do we need to call?
As we mentioned in previous articles, our son, Avi, began receiving services when he was 8 months old because he exhibited several developmental delays. We got the actual diagnosis of autism, however, just before his third birthday.
Michelle is a special educator by profession, so we knew what we needed to do for Avi, educationally. He was already enrolled in the most appropriate programs for kids on the autism spectrum and receiving the therapies he needed in order to learn. At the same time, we discovered a whole world of other therapeutic interventions that we really knew nothing about.
We spent our days and nights researching and trying so many different interventions to help Avi. We tried special diets, supplements, vitamin injections, light and movement therapies, alternative medicine -- we tried to leave no stone unturned. We didn’t want to ever look back and wonder, “What if we had tried this?” or “We should have tried that.”
Our goal here is not to delve into the science and pseudo-science behind some of these therapies, or to debate their efficacy. We tried to be open-minded and we definitely tried things that stretched the limits of credibility (and our wallets). But we wanted to make sure that whatever Avi’s functioning level, it was exactly where he was supposed to be and that we gave him every opportunity to succeed.
Go right to the Source
As we mentioned in an earlier column, we got some slightly misguided guidance early on in our journey. After we received the official diagnosis, Michelle asked a Rabbi whether Avi’s name should be included in the prayer for the sick (misheberach for cholim) in our Shul every Shabbos. The Rabbi said we could add his name to the list, but only in a Shul where nobody would recognize the name. He was concerned that we’d get a ‘reputation’ that would hurt marriage prospects in the future. After all, what if Avi outgrew his issues and ended up developing normally? The stigma could haunt him for years.
At the time, it made sense. Plenty of people were touting ‘cures’ for autism and the whole situation was still new. We didn’t know what to think, what to wish for, or what to pray for. As Avi grew and as we grew more familiar with the special-needs world, our perspective shifted and we embraced Avi’s differences without worrying about stigma and shame. (We also found new Rabbis.)
When Avi was turning 7, we realized that there was one non-traditional intervention we hadn’t tried – targeted, communal davening. We’d always turned to Hashem with prayer throughout our lives, and certainly through raising Avi. But we had never tried a full-blown “davening intervention.”
After brainstorming for a little while, we sent a letter to our families, closest friends, and some of Avi’s therapists. We summarized his progress up to that point and explained how he was doing in terms of growth and development. Then we asked everyone who was so inclined to volunteer to recite Tehillim on Avi’s Hebrew birthday. We asked them to pray for Avi’s health and for Hashem to grant us continued strength and clarity of mind in raising Avi and his sister.
A crowd of well-wishers
People were very touched by our letter, and most of them signed up to recite selected chapters. This was the first davening intervention we held, and with everyone’s participation, the entire Sefer Tehillim was recited twice on Avi’s birthday. Throughout the day, people called or texted or emailed us to let us know that they had said their Tehillim, and they added all manner of blessings and good wishes and encouragement for Avi and our family. It was a very moving and profound experience. We felt supported by all the people who participated, and we felt that they really loved us and Avi unconditionally.
At that point, we decided that this had to become an annual event. With the help of Google Docs and a firm belief in the power of prayer, we’ve been sending out yearly letters to a growing list of friends and family. This intervention is not only a great inspiration to us; we believe it definitely helps Avi’s growth and development
Last week, we had our eleventh annual davening intervention. Our list of volunteers has grown to include new neighbors, new family members, new friends of Avi’s, and plenty of people who just heard about it and asked to join.
On Avi’s eighteenth Hebrew birthday, over 100 people participated in the intervention and recited Sefer Tehillim four times over. We have seen outright miracles in the last few years, in terms of Avi’s school placements, growth, and development. We believe that these prayers play an important role in these successes, and we are grateful to all of our davening intervention participants.
Setting up a davening intervention is easy. It doesn’t cost money, and it doesn’t involve a heavy investment of time, either. It creates a unique opportunity for people to feel connected and supported, and it yields dividends that are immeasurable. Feel free to drop us a line if you’d like to learn more.
A Siyum – After Months Of Dedication
The Night Kollel had a beautiful siyum, made by two members, Mordechai Fleishman and Hillel Goldscheider. R’ Hillel reminisced at the siyum how a year and a half ago he requested a chavrusa and – as the saying goes – the rest is history. But, don’t think this was something that just went on auto pilot. The siyum was an occasion to underscore the dedication and devotion – night after night – trekking through Meseches Makos, and finally the culmination of their hard work, celebrating this great milestone, finishing the entire Mesechta, with Rashi and Tosfos.
The Kollel Boker made a seuadas praida/goodbye party for Rabbi Yosef Lowey, who is leaving town to become a rav in Long Island. As appropriate for the occasion, there was a beautiful and delectable spread, enjoyed by all. Rabbi Lowey spoke of his feelings of hakaras hatov to our special kollel, and how he much he enjoyed the Friday shiurim. His Chavrusa, R’ Yehuda Grodko, spoke about his wonderful Chavrusa that he enjoyed. He also extolled the praises of the members of the kollel who are dedicated to the learning and come day in and day out – rain and shine – to start off their day on the right foot, with a bona fide learning session.
“The Three Weeks – When Does it Start?”
The Rosh Kolel, Rabbi Scheiner, gave a shiur on the timely topic of “The Three Weeks – When Does it Start?” This topic is especially relevant this year, when Shiva Asar B’Tamuz falls on Shabbos and is pushed off to Sunday and there are different opinions as to when rules and regulations of “The Three Weeks” start.
Legal Holiday Shiur hosts Rabbi Yisroel Reisman,
Ohr Chaim Community Learning Center, in conjunction with our Yarchei Kallah, hosted a Legal Holiday Shiur, which took place on Wednesday morning, July 4th, at 9:15AM. The guest speaker was Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rabbi of Agudas Yisrael of Madison and Rosh Yeshiva Torah Vadaas. He discussed Piskei Halacha for summer and vacation, which including some important and relevant shaalos, such as:
Can I buy coffee at a gas station?
How far can I walk out of the colony on Shabbos?
Can my daughter take a ride at night?
Eating outside on Shabbos- What do I have to know?
As always, these shiurim are available on the shul’s website, 18Forshay.com, on MP3 in the shul, and on Torahanytime.
By Michelle and Yaakov Steinhart