In August, a group of parents of children and young adults with
disabilities met and devised an action plan. They formed the new
St. Louis Council for Jews with Special Needs. The Council’s
mission statement is broad but purposeful: “An organization
to benefit Jewish individuals with special needs and their families.” They
are creating an agenda out of the needs and good ideas of those
who have been attending their meetings.
The St. Louis Council for Jews with Special Needs meets at Congregation
Neve Shalom, in the Rainbow Village, 1240 Dautel. Take Olive to Dautel
(Dautel is one mile west of Lindbergh off of Olive). Turn north at
Dautel, go 1/2 mile to the Rainbow Village. Turn right at Dautel Circle,
we are in the building in back. (Click
here for driving directions.)
By Rabbi James Stone Goodman
We are taught to be sensitive to the stranger, we all came from
strangers (Genesis 15:13). We are taught not to oppress the stranger,
for we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:20). But
I came to understand that there is no stranger. There is no them,
there is only us.
My teacher taught me that every single thing in creation is a
vessel. It contains. It contains a life force, it contains an inner
point of wholeness; there is an aspect of a human being that is
inner and it is never partial, it is never diminished, it is never
broken because it is life itself and all life is Godly.
That's not to say you can't push the hand of creation, or the
hand of God for that matter. My teacher used to say that God hovers
over every living thing and makes only one demand: grow. Sometimes
the growth needs a little stimulation, a little nudge, and that
is what we do. We give it a nudge, we remind people that God is
always present; we may impose more expectations on ourselves but
God has only one expectation of us: grow.
It's a gentle demand because the way it is expressed in the Jewish
literature, it is no demand at all. The story literally reads,
each herb and tree has an angel in heaven who strikes it and
says to it, "grow!" (Me'am Lo'ez). Or there is a version
in the midrash: there isn't a blade of grass that grows that doesn't
have a star in heaven that strikes it and says: grow (Bereshit
God hovers over the grass and demands: grow. That's the short
hand way of saying, the grass grows by nature. The angels, messengers
of God, hover over the grass and demand: be your nature. It is
not even a demand because it is asking only that the grass be grass,
grow. Grass grows, it's nature, this is how it works.
So there is no demand really. There is only nature. So, there
is no stranger, there is no them, there is no brokenness, there
is only God, expressions of the ultimate and the holy through the
particular, there is no partial, this is an iconoclastic set of
There is no stranger.
Our synagogue, Congregation Neve Shalom, meets these days on
the grounds of what is called the Rainbow Village, cluster housing
for the developmentally disabled, what used to be called the St.
Louis Association for Retarded Citizens.
The first day we were there, one of our little boys, he was eleven
years old, came up to me. "Thank you for bringing us here," he
said (not everyone wanted to move onto that campus), "I
used to afraid of them. Now I am not afraid."
"That's beautiful," I said, then I took him aside and
I said, "there is no them. You know that, don't you? They
are us, do you understand what I'm saying?"
Eleven years old, smart boy, he looked up at me, thought for
a second, and said, "yes, I do. I do understand."