May 20, 2024
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May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

It’s complicated having a grandson turn 20 when you know that his path ahead will not in any way be similar to his siblings, cousins and others who are of the same age. Of course, most of you must realize that I am speaking of Zev Kinderlehrer, Dena and Moshe’s son, who was born with autism.

When I think of what Zev has accomplished in his 20 years, I realize that those who are far older, and even his contemporaries, may never accomplish what he has already succeeded in doing. He has sensitized the world around him to the fact that, despite his disability, he is a person who thinks, observes, laughs, smiles and can be afraid of various things (such as dogs). He has made friends wherever he has gone, and what typically happens, gradually, is that even those who fear him initially because of his differences will gradually be drawn to him. They do not generally have much time to be hesitant about being close to him, as Zev will be the first to reach out to them.

Once Zev has met someone he will never forget them. The charisma that he has in his own innocent way has educated even the most uncomfortable and awkward-feeling people to realize that inside this boy’s (man’s) mind is a pure, beautiful, innocent soul who just wants to be friends.

And friends Zev has.

As we celebrated his birthday this evening on West Englewood, there was hardly a person who went by who didn’t know him. He spots someone he knows from a block away and is so excited to see whoever it is.

Of course, from the time that Zev was a young child I always observed that somehow he was drawn primarily to chasidim. In Montreal he had the opportunity to see many of them, and when visiting his favorite bake shop, Cheskie’s, not only did it fulfill his craving for something sweet, but it also fulfilled his desire to mingle with chasidim. Most interesting was how kind they were to him from the time he was very young, when he would meet them and immediately ask if they were either going to Mincha or were about to make kiddush. No one ran away; no one turned away; they always treated him kindly and answered whatever questions or comments he had.

To this day one of Zev’s favorite activities is going to shul, and as Dena said, the best present that they ever bought for him was a siddur with his name on it. He takes it with him to shul and then comes home and puts it in the same spot each time. His neshama is entwined with that of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

I watched today how many of Zev’s friends walking by immediately came over when he either spotted them or they spotted him to wish him a happy birthday. A video was made of all of Zev’s many, many counselors from Camp HASC wishing him a happy birthday, and I can honestly say that not one of them felt it was a task to have to do so. For them Zev is just one of the boys.

Often I find that we as adults should learn from the young people today who work with young men and women with special needs. I have said before and will reiterate that everyone who works at HASC or Yachad or Friendship Circle or Camp Simcha are tzaddikim. What is most special is that these young people will grow up to be leaders of Jewish communities all over, and they will make certain that individuals with special needs will be included in all activities. Their children will grow up perpetuating what they have learned from their parents and the circle will go on and on.

Zev would not be who he is today if it were not for his parents and siblings, Tamar, Noam and Eyal. I do not know if anyone has ever seen Dena without a smile on her face. (I have, especially when she sees a spider). Moshe takes Zev to shul, which is his absolute favorite thing to do. Zev’s siblings have blossomed into young adults who lovingly care for their brother in little ways that I, as their Bubbie, have observed. They are the first to advocate on his behalf. I watched how at a certain point all of Zev’s siblings took on new roles as they became part of his caretaking crew.

The underlying pain for parents of children with special needs never goes away. One would never see it in public on the faces of Dena and Moshe. I am proud to be their parent and to have watched this very difficult situation evolve into a powerful lesson for us all.

Happy Birthday Zev—I love you so much!


Nina Glick lives in Bergenfield with her husband, Rabbi Mordechai Glick.

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