I am writing to you as a mother who wants to plead my case. My two older children are enrolled in your school, and my two-year-old daughter, as you know, has Down syndrome. She is so loving, happy and high functioning and deserves the best Jewish education she can get, one which I believe can be provided by your school. You have heard our story, many friends and supporters have pleaded with you, and yet you will not even meet Caily or give her an assessment. While I am still saddened and disappointed by your decision, I have also heard the school’s side of the story and I want to share a few thoughts.
I recognize that the school is concerned that there will be a surge of Down syndrome applications if Caily is accepted. I know admitting a Down syndrome child is unprecedented in the school’s history, but that does not make it right or fair.
The world is changing rapidly and your school must accommodate these changes. 60,000 children with DS are mainstreamed in the US, including many Jewish Day Schools. We are not asking for something radical. You are not even wholly responsible for her success. The success of the child rests so much on the parents and their participation in the effort. We are the ones who will have to lead the team. If you have ever had parents qualified to lead this process, it would have to be us. You do not know us well but ask in the community and you will hear- if any family can deal with the challenges and make the light shine it’s us. We as a team could add so much to your school if you just give us the chance.
We are a family driven by compassion. When Caily was born, my husband, Gavin said to me that we should have ‘activist’ branded on our foreheads. We live what we believe. Neither Gavin nor I grew up religious. Along the way we became very close with Rabbi Noah Weinberg Z"L from Aish HaTorah. Each day we wake up with a passion to change the world, inspired by his vision. This year we hosted over 1,000 guests for Shabbat as well as countless Torah classes and simchas in our home. Likewise, with Caily we have fully embraced our mission of changing the world. We see it as our role to fight to give Caily the best opportunities and to make the world she lives in a better place. Rav Weinberg never stopped reaching out and trying to educate. So too is our mission, and so too should be yours.
On a more personal level, your rejection is painful. When you are baal teshuva, you invest tremendous thought and energy into what community, hashkafah, and values you want for yourself and your children. When I started my religious journey the most impressive thing to me was visiting families and seeing how central Jewish education was to their life - kids giving d’var torahs at the table, fathers sharing words of wisdom, bookshelves lined with Gemoras, people rushing out after a meal to attend a class. This is something we aspire to in our home. We want all of our children to gain the opportunity to have a Jewish education. We did not wake up here…we fought so hard to be here. We moved from Australia to NY to be in a dynamic Jewish community and to find a place where we could educate our kids accordingly. We chose your school and we love it and feel as if a family member has turned their back on us.
Rabbi please hear this if nothing else. Meron, our oldest son is an incredibly sweet and sensitive child with a maturity beyond his years. Last winter when he was just 6 years old, he and Gavin walked past the homeless person (Dianne) on our street. Gavin always gives her a dollar. One day he gave her $10. Meron asked why so much and Gavin explained that on freezing days she pays a super in the neighborhood to let her sleep in the basement. Meron said, "Abba next time don’t give her money – she can come sleep in my bed," then he was deep in thought and said, "but don’t tell Imma". Gavin assumed that he thought I would say she was dirty. To Gavin’s surprise he said, "Imma will tell everyone how proud she is of me and Abba it’s nothing to be proud of; it’s just what Jews should do." How many 6 years old have that type of neshama? I want Caily to grow up with these same values and sensitivities, and I don’t want my older children becoming angry and disillusioned with the intolerance of their school, their principal, or the Orthodox world. Rabbi, please think about this. You are the Principal of the school, you have an opportunity to affect change, take a stand, and do what is right.
When Hashem gives a family like ours a special needs kid that is Hashem’s choice. How we treat this child is ours. We are asking you to please open your heart, open your mind and seize the opportunity to be a beacon of light in the community by accepting our daughter.
This article first appeared in issue #14 of Down Syndrome Amongst Us