Published April 18, 2011
Reflections on Yachad Shabbaton
by: Nathan Weissler
  Issue: 12.04
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On the Shabbos of February 25-26, I participated in a Shabbaton at my synagogue in Washington, DC which was attended by several participants with Yachad "the National Jewish Council for Disabilities” (NJCD.) Yachad is affiliated with the Orthodox Union (OU.) Teenage volunteers with Yachad also attended the Shabbaton. According to the Yachad website, “Yachad/NJCD is dedicated to enhancing the life opportunities of individuals with disabilities, ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life." As I have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder, and have advocated extensively on behalf of people with special needs throughout the years, I found the Shabbaton to be particularly gratifying. The most important and meaningful aspect was witnessing a testimony of commitment to inclusion and disability rights which will hopefully never be forgotten.

The Shabbaton began on Erev Shabbos, February 25 with Kabbalat Shabbat services, followed by a delicious Shabbos dinner. I spoke with several teen volunteers and we discussed our respective life experiences and discussed our interest in issues related to disability rights. Following dinner, there were various games and activities including singing. I began to experience tears of joy as I realized that, if not for the commitment and dedication shown by countless advocates, the profound human bonds and friendships that were being forged, at that very moment, might be less likely, or even impossible. Later, as I was walking in the direction of my neighborhood with several people participating in the Shabbaton, I observed: "It may be dark outside, but inside of us there is an abundance of light!"

At lunch at the synagogue on Shabbos I continued my discussions with participants in the Shabbaton. I then participated in a Torah study class at the rabbi's home and then walked back to synagogue. I continued interacting with the Shabbaton participants. After Mincha, afternoon prayers, we all had Seudah Shelishit (the third and final Shabbos meal.) At that moment, I felt like crying both tears of joy and tears of sorrow. I felt happiness because I had just had one of the most spiritually enriching experiences of my life. I felt sad because I was disappointed to see Shabbos end.

However, even though Shabbos was over, my interactions with Yachad volunteers and participants had not ended.

That Sunday evening, February 27, I went ice skating in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland with people who had participated in the Shabbaton. I enjoyed the opportunity to say "goodbye" to several people I had become friendly with. I have since frequently reminded myself of the obligation I feel to put into action words and rhetoric in support of acceptance and inclusion, an essential part of the Shabbaton. It is equally important to take advantage of every possible opportunity to help others climb metaphorical mountains. Furthermore, these opportunities to help people overcome obstacles and climb mountains, frequently come when we least expect it, which is why we must be constantly vigilant.

These combined goals were the most important messages I received from the Yachad Shabbaton. I will be forever changed for the better as a result.

For more information, see the Yachad website.

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