Sermons on Inclusion

Everyone is Someone's Jacob 

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

Our worth is not what we do; it is that we are. What is precious is simply that being ourselves, we bring something precious into the world. We don't have to earn God's love, and we don't have to earn each other's. Each of us is infinitely precious being ourselves and we need to acknowledge that -- a gift from my son. The Talmud teaches us "rachmana leiba'i," God wants only the heart. And if we have heart, we have everything and if we don't have heart, no degree, no income, no wealth and fame can compensate for its lack.

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Jacob Who Loves the Sabbath

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

For ten years, I served as a congregational rabbi in the suburbs of Orange County, California, delivering many passionate sermons on the holiness of the Sabbath.... But despite all those years of preaching Shabbat, and even though I myself was Sabbath-observant, I don't think I truly understood my own message or felt the full power of the seventh day until after I left the congregation. It was only after my family moved to the city that my six-year old son Jacob showed me how to engage in the true soul-rest of the Sabbath. Jacob gave me the gift of the Sabbath. Jacob is autistic.

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You Have Probably Never Met Anyone Like Me

Jacob Artson

You have probably never met anyone like me who can't speak but can communicate by typing. I am an example of how someone can be impaired in one area but have great strengths in another. That is true of most people, but it is true in the extreme about people with autism.

When I was diagnosed at age 3, I couldn't speak or move my body properly, and 15 years later I am still extremely impaired in both areas. But if success is measured by being a mensch and helping make this world a better place, then I would classify myself as a success. You can be the judges.

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Parenting Your Jewish Special Needs Child

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond
Executive Vice President,
Board of Rabbis of Southern California

As a survivor of Auschwitz, Rina's mother knew all too well the value of life. And her father, a rabbi, echoed his wife's feelings. A congregant once asked him: "Rabbi, how could this happen to someone like you, you who are so close to God?" He replied: "Nobody is exempt from accident...nobody is privileged. Rina is not God's punishment...she is God's child!"

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Rosh HaShanah Day

Rabbi Jackie Redner
Rabbi in Residence
Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services

Born without legs, Kevin Connoly was raised as a normal boy by his parents. Using a sort of leather body boot, Kevin hikes, camps, and skis and lives a normal life. The amazing thing about Kevin is that being born without legs is not crippling for him. It is however, as his camera shows, crippling for us. Traveling around the globe by skateboard, Kevin shot photographs of people as they looked at him - 32,000 photos. One sees shocked faces, tight lipped faces, angry and confused faces, sad faces, closed faces. Can you imagine what it must be like to be the recipient of these looks, day in and day out?

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The Insomniac's Tale (Vayishlach)

Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer
Milken Community High School &
American Jewish University

For many long years, the hero, Jacob, has avoided that which he most fears - a confrontation, face-to-face, with a source of great pain, disappointment and regret. Soon - in the morning - the hero will finally confront the one he fears. But right now, it is night. The night is very dark and and very long. This is the tale of an insomniac. This is a text about you.

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Under the Table (Shemini)

Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer
Milken Community High School &
American Jewish University

The strange fire alight in my son is called autism. And we are not alone: One child in every 166 nationwide is now diagnosed with autism. The Jewish community is not immune to this epidemic. The children affected by autism and other disorders are challenging, unusual, and sometimes distracting. But they are also beautiful, creative, loving and bright, and - as Jewish tradition teaches - made in God's image. And they are ours.

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Isaac's Blessing: Sermon on Chayei Sarah

Rabbi Deborah Goldmann
Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf

Many people note that Isaac is never alone. He seems incapable of doing anything alone. His parents are highly over-protective. Sarah seems to overreact when she perceives Ishmael to be mistreating Isaac. Abraham seems overly involved in finding a wife for Isaac. For reasons that are not clear, Isaac is never alone and is described as if he is incapable of doing anything independently. Perhaps Isaac had some kind of characteristic that placed him outside of the "normal" community. Perhaps Isaac had a developmental delay, explaining why those around him gave Isaac so much attention, protection and help.

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Rebekah and Isaac and Their Children

Rabbi Moshe Reiss
from Messengers of God: A Theological and Psychological Perspective

Isaac is the least well defined of the three Patriarchs. His difficulty in defining himself is clearly the result of the akeda.... Was the akeda a closely guarded family secret - to be safeguarded but never disclosed? Did Rebekah ever hear of the traumatic event of the akeda from Isaac or anyone else? Was she required to deal with the painful results without knowledge? Perhaps the inarticulate Isaac tells her in a dream.

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God's Gift in an Unexpected Package

Michael G. Kaplan
President, Congregation Or Ami

When my son, Brandon, was born. Dina and I immediately recognized that something was different about this child, as he had a visible disability. Within an hour the pediatrician walked into Dina's hospital room and told us that there was a problem with the baby. I listened as he described Brandon's rocker bottom feet, short neck, wide set eyes and a simian crease on his hand. Through the fog that just settled upon us, Dina and I observed a parade of specialists who examined Brandon, each radiated an aura of doom and gloom, and each gave us the comforting three word report, "I don't know."

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Ido Kedar's Teachings

Ido Kedar

Ido Kedar is a 14 year old young man with autism who has limited ability to express himself verbally, but who has found that by typing or pointing to letters on a board that he can spell out the most soaring of thoughts. Ido's life goal is to help liberate other autistic people from their silence. These pieces of teaching and divrei Torah were written by Ido when he was 13 years old.

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Entering Nes Gadol - Entering the Great Miracle at Vista Del Mar

Rabbi Jackie Redner
Rabbi in Residence
Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services

Upon walking into Vista Del Mar's social hall to visit Nes Gadol for the first time, I noticed a boy sitting on the floor. He was vocalizing, reaching for everything within arms length, and making biting motions with his teeth. His aide was trying to help him calm his body. I breathed deeply and sat near this boy on the floor wanting to discover who he was.... That first day during my visit, this boy managed with tremendous effort to type for me, "Will you help me to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah?" and "Thank you for your patience." As I sat with him that day, something new in me was born.

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Strongest Dad in the World

Rick Reilly
Sports Illustrated

Eighty-five times Dick Hoyt has pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming, then pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars--all in the same day. Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike.

And what has Rick done for his father? Not much--except save his life.

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Isaac: Rosh Hashanah Isaac 5771

Rabbi Dan Goldblatt
Beth Chaim Congegration