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Positive Perspectives From The World of Special Needs

‘More Than Special: Positive Perspectives from the World of Special Needs,’ By Ahava Ehrenpreis. Artscroll/Shaar Press, October, 2021.

The blurb on this book begins, “Everyone who knew him was mesmerized by Saadya Ehrenpreis a”h, the young man with Down syndrome who confounded all the experts.” It goes on to relate that this young man confounded all the experts who predicted his total dependency on others, but would go on to master two languages, traverse the subways of New York, travel back and forth to Israel, and, ultimately, learn in special programs in Israel and Yeshiva University. His story, which was shared over the years by his mother, Ahava Ehrenpreis, in her writing for Mishpacha magazine had served as a source of chizuk and inspiration to readers for many years. Now Mrs. Ehrenpreis has authored “More Than Special: Positive Perspectives from the World of Special Needs. “

When Saadya succumbed to COVID-19 in April of 2020, Mrs. Ehrenpreis decided to memorialize her son in a full-length book to provide encouragement and validation for the many families and individuals who face life with varying degrees of special needs. In addition, she asked rabbanim, parents, professionals and those involved with services and knowledge in this ever-growing world, both in the world at large and in a Jewish community, to share their thoughts and advice. Also included are a number of entries written by the special needs individuals themselves.

This volume is, indeed, a treasure trove of inspiration on a personal and professional level for every reader, independently of their personal involvement in the world of special needs. Ehrenpreis follows the format of her previous book, “On My Own … But Not Alone” (Artscroll/Shaar Press, May. 2019), which focused on women on their own and for society at large to be sensitized to this population. Similarly, this new book expands this concept and provides every reader with insights into the world of special needs and information valuable to all readers.

The volume is divided into sections titled “Spiritual Guidance,” Therapeutic guidance, Legal Guidance, and Tributes. In articles authored by HaRav Rabbi Ahron Kahn, the words of Rav Moshe Shapiro, and the Pnei Menachem, we learn the Torah view of the value and importance of every individual in the eyes of our Creator. Rebbetzins Fayge Horowitz and Aviva Feiner share their personal stories, both spiritually uplifting and deeply moving. Parents of special-needs individuals also share their hashkafic and personal stories.

The section titled “Therapeutic Guidance” offers a virtual potpourri of professional discussions and personal stories. To mention just a few authors: clinical psychologist, Dr. Stephen Glicksman, of both Yeshiva University and Major Disability services; Yechiel Hirth of Harmony Disability Services; Mr. Avi Ganz of Darkaynu. Therapists and specialists who have made the world of special needs their life goal. We learn the history of such organizations as HASC, Harmony, and Yachad, to name just a sample. The value of the growth of the concept of inclusion is discussed from both the professional and personal point of view in religious, educational and social venues.

Indeed, the personal voices used so successfully in her first book may be the most impactful for the general reader. In their own words, parents describe their personal struggles to provide any and all paths that would enrich their child with special needs. The reader can feel humbled by these parents, who describe overcoming barriers and societal attitudes that required sometimes brutal efforts on their parts to break down walls that may have existed for centuries. Parents changed the world for their individual children and, in some cases, created institutions, schools and public forums to change the world view of the individual with special needs and the role and inclusion in society at large. Some parents describe coming to terms with situations that were beyond even their parental ability, or the awareness as years passed that letting go of their child to enter into the world at large is of great importance for the development of their child’s potential for an independent and fulfilling life. The concept of marriage is addressed in both the professional and personal stories of two families who facilitated this opportunity for their children. These are stories of heroes and heroines that everyone would do well to read and absorb.

For readers who knew or were familiar with the personal and inspiring story of Saadya Ehrenepreis, a tribute section at the end of the book gives heartwarming insights in the role he played on a personal level to his family, his school and organizations, whether learning in Israel in a program called Darkaynu at Yeshivat Har Etzion, at Yeshiva University or with Yachad, the social inclusion arm of the OU.

I close this review with a quote from the book flap: This is a book “for everyone who believes that every person is special and should be treated with understanding, compassion, acceptance, and respect. More Than Special—a book for those who want to deepen and expand their own ahavas Yisrael. And doesn’t that mean all of us?”

By Rebecca Karp

 

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