Yachad: A High School Peer Perspective

Abby Bessler, a senior at the Maimonides School and Yachad club co-president, shares her insights on the value of Yachad’s programs.

Yachad advisors and participants including Abby (top left) enjoy dinner after Shabbat (Courtesy photo)

New England Yachad is an inclusive organization that serves people of all ages with disabilities. But it is much more than just that.

The word “Yachad” means together. It means inclusion. Inclusion is a crucial part of our daily lives, and throughout my experience with Yachad I have really learned how important it is to make sure everyone feels like they belong.

Yachad is a huge part of who I am as a person today. I first became involved in Yachad in ninth grade, when I attended my first of many Shabbatons.

On Friday night, someone came over to me and asked if I could help one of the Yachad participants because his advisor was having difficulty during meals. I went over, introduced myself, and watched as the advisor would take little pieces of bread, put them in water, and feed this boy on the right side of his mouth, because he has very little mobility.

I sat down next to the boy and his advisor and began talking to them. I soon realized the boy couldn’t speak, and I began doubting whether he could understand anything I was saying. This made it difficult to keep trying to have a conversation. I soon offered to feed him, so his advisor could get something to eat.

Left to right: Yachad advisor Gabi Nachman, participant Mira and Abby arrive for a Shabbaton (Courtesy photo)

After about seven minutes into the conversation, I said something and the boy looked me right in the eyes. I froze. I suddenly realized he understood everything I was saying. Then I said something about Ed Sheeran, and I saw a slight smile on his lips. I immediately felt a tear on my cheek, and turned away to hide my tears. I became very emotional. This boy understood everything I was saying, and the whole time I had doubted him. I felt horrible. I was in shock.

Throughout the weekend we got closer and closer, and soon we were able to communicate fully, without him saying a single word. I soon learned that he has an amazing sense of humor, and would make me laugh out loud.

I also started to see how he would often be left out of things, or not paid attention to, since he wasn’t as loud or funny as some of the other participants. People would sometimes talk about him, in front of him, not realizing he understood everything they were saying.

I realized that we assume someone is not capable of something unless we see it. We assume that because we haven’t witnessed it yet, it’s not possible. But Yachad has taught me to believe in other people, and their abilities, despite how someone may look on the outside. Never judge people from the outside, because they WILL surprise you.

People talk about inclusion a lot these days. Whether it’s entertaining someone at a Shabbaton, or including all abilities, races, or cultures in our communities.

A very important thing I learned from Yachad is that it’s the little things, like inviting someone over so they don’t feel left out, or sitting next to someone who is alone during lunch, that make a really big difference. This is why Yachad is so important in our communities.

Yachad participant Emily (left) and Abby at an event at Launch Trampoline Park (Courtesy photo)

Rabbi Akiva teaches us to “love our neighbor like we love ourselves.” Yachad has really taught me how to do this because I learned there is no difference between a Yachad member and myself.

Whether I have ADD or my friend has autism, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. For them, their challenges may just be magnified, but we are the same. Whether someone struggles with controlling their emotions, or with communication, it’s nothing that we don’t deal with in our everyday lives. It’s really important to be able to relate to everyone, and not think you are different because of external factors.

I think that there is something very special we can learn from many of the Yachad participants. We are often products of our society, always trying to conform to societal norms and “fit in.”

However, most of the Yachad participants are just their pure, natural selves. They often don’t care what others think, or try to do what everyone else is doing, which is very special and pure because you really get to see their true selves. It makes for some real connections and bonds that are able to be formed when people are honest and open about themselves. There is always so much to learn from the people around you.

I am thankful for everyone involved in Yachad who helps run this amazing organization, changing the lives of so many people. But most of all, I am thankful for all the friends I’ve made in Yachad, all the participants who have taught me so much about myself and other people. They have taught me that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we are all special in our own ways. I will cherish these friendships forever.

This speech was written by Abby Bressler for New England Yachad. Click here to view this post on JewishBoston.com.