Recently, a very exciting event took place: a number of young people with special needs who dorm at the Feuerstein Institute have been attending a unique and ambitious program at Mitchell night school in which they are working to receive their high school diplomas.
To our great delight, a number of students received awards for monologues they wrote as part of their studies under the tutelage of Ran Melamed.
I have included three of these prizewinning monologues, which the authors read out loud at the ceremony honoring them. In an effort to protect their identities, I have changed their names. These are the original monologues, with only the most minor changes.
I want to tell you about three things. Firstly, I would like to tell you about an operation I had at Assaf Harofeh Hospital when I was four-and-a-half years old. It was a very scary operation because nobody knew if it would be successful or when I’d be able to start eating afterwards. But the doctor explained everything to us and tried to calm us down as much as he could.
When I woke up in the hospital after the operation, I had severe pain in my hands from the plaster casts and from the medicinal creams they had rubbed on my hands. But despite the pain, I knew that the operation was important and that it would be beneficial to me in the end, since after the operation I’d be able to hold things with the two fingers that had been separated.
The second thing I want to share with you here is an incident that took place when I was 10 and I went out to play in the park. One of the neighborhood boys was really mean to me when he saw my hands. He began insulting and ridiculing me, and said, “Yuck! Your hands are so disgusting and ugly.” I think he was probably around 15 or 16. I wanted to tell him not to be scared. He kept going on and on like this and I was on the brink of tears. Finally, he left the playground. I thought to myself, how would he feel if he had been born with hands like mine, and others made fun of him like he was making fun of me? The third and last thing I want to tell you about is my new mentor, Netanel. He’s 22 and he used to learn in the yeshiva. We get together once a week and do lots of things together, such as learning Torah, halacha and gemara. I want to invite him to come home with me for Shabbat and for him to invite me to his house, too. Of course, I would love to find more activities that we can do together, like going to a concert together.
The thing that most surprised me was that he wanted to know all about my hands – what happened to them and how this has impacted on my life.
I told him my hands were like this when I was born, and I didn’t have an accident or anything.
Netanel is the best mentor in the world.
By the way, friends of mine are going to give me a trumpet soon and I’m going to try to play it even though it will be really hard. In conclusion, I would like to say that I now know what is good for me in life and I know how to ask for what I need.Avi:
I want to feel happy inside my heart. I remember that when I was growing up on the kibbutz and living in the communal children’s house, life wasn’t easy for me. One boy called me names, and in another house the kids insulted and hit me.
They even ruined by bar mitzvah. Nobody treated me nicely, and the caregivers working there didn’t help me either. I wanted to confront these kids, to put them in their place, to tell them how much they hurt me. In the end, I left the children’s home.
I’d rather live in a place with loving and open people who love me and who I love, too. I will do favors for them and they will also do for me.
When people respect me, I respect them back – this is what I’ve learned here at Feuerstein. The people I live with now know how to accept me and they appreciate me for who I am and everything I do.
And of course, no one ruins my birthdays anymore.
I want more than anything to feel happy inside my heart. Forever.Ori:
My goal is to move forward, to become independent and to work and make a living. I want to get my high school diploma and pass my matriculation exams. When I achieve this, I will know that I’ve taken a huge step in the direction I want to move.
I’ve come a long way since my childhood on the moshav to where I am today at Feuerstein. I loved growing up on the moshav, living on the moshav.
Mainly I remember how I used to love sitting on the wooden swing in the yard outside my parents’ house. I remember how my neighbor, Chaim, would let me drive on his lawnmower. I liked him and would go visit him all the time. I also remember how my father would mow the grass and walk the dogs and my mother would water the garden.
There are so many wonderful things I remember from my childhood on the moshav.
Today I live at Feuerstein. I’m completing my high school studies and learning how to live independently.
I have a good job and I’m living the way I want to.
It’s not easy to leave home and not see my mother every day, but despite the difficulties I’m glad I took this difficult step. Some people have even told me I’m very brave. But we must be brave in life if we want to fulfill our dreams.
I also have a small dream: to coach the HaPoel soccer team. My dream is that the team will be happy, there’ll be a great atmosphere during training practices and of course that HaPoel will win lots of games.
I want to be able to tell myself that I’m a smart student and to always be moving forward.
EVERY YEAR as we sit down for the Passover Seder, we are commanded to remember how we were once slaves in Egypt and then God delivered us to freedom. Every year we look for new meaning to our lives. I would like to suggest that we use these three monologues to express in the deepest and most genuine way possible how it’s possible to move from slavery to freedom.
The essence of slavery, whether at the hand of an individual or an entire society, is the denial of people’s freedom of choice, the reduction of their ability to manage and shape their own lives. Each of these three young men managed to alter the course of their lives.
Their ability to break out of the mold and shape their lives as they saw fit was extremely limited.
They were stuck inside the glass box of society, which constricted their movements and took control over their self-perception. Just as the prophet Samuel said to Saul, the first king of Israel: If you see yourself as small, how will the people of Israel view you? Your problem, Samuel told Saul, is not that you are truly weak. The only problem is your self-esteem.
These monologues are an expression of how these three individuals left slavery behind and attained freedom. They’ve succeeded in overcoming the stereotypes and prejudices society places on them. With tremendous support, they’ve managed to improve their self-esteem and for the first time in their lives to believe in themselves.
No longer do they feel restricted and incapable of developing themselves and of becoming active participants in society.
In fact, we can all see a little bit of ourselves in these monologues.
Each of us is struggling to break out of his or her own glass box. How amazing is it that we can learn from these valiant young people who felt so trapped inside their boxes, but worked tirelessly to break free. May we all strive this Passover to break free from the shackles of our own personal slavery and reach freedom.
The author is a rabbi and president of the Feuerstein Institute.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.