You have seen our children. Our children are the special children, the ones that you see with braces, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. The ones who look a little bit different. You always smile kindly when you pass us on the street, in the supermarket, at the playground. You are sympathetic when you see them being lifted onto their special vans in the morning. You are encouraging when you pass them wheeling their own wheelchairs or learning to walk in their walkers and you think that you have seen the extent of their abilities.
But you have never seen our children dance.
They may not be able to run, walk, or even sit up, but oh, how our children can dance.
When you see that glow in their eyes, you can glimpse our children's souls.
From the first exhilarating dance after Yom Kippur, the Sukkot holiday is a time of joy and dancing. You have never seen true joy until you have seen our children dance. That's when you can see who they really are. When you see that glow in their eyes, you can glimpse our children's souls. And at the Simchat Beit Hashoeiva for the special children of Jerusalem's Meshi School, that is precisely what we saw.
Outwardly, our children looked the same as on any other occasion. There were the body braces and wheelchairs of spina bifida, the twisted limbs and drooping heads of cerebral palsy, the drooling mouths and fixed stares of the chromosomal disorders. There were the children who struggled to walk on their own, with walkers and crutches, and there were the children who tugged at everyone's heartstrings as they expertly maneuvered their own tiny wheelchairs. There were the children who supported their own body weight, sitting up in their chairs and looking almost normal, and there were the children who curled up in their mothers' arms like babies. There were the children who could speak, and there were the children who communicated only with their eyes. Each child a world unto his own, with his own needs and requirements, his own special abilities and disabilities. Each child a unique individual. The one similarity amongst them was the beaming ear to ear grin on every face. No matter how severe their disabilities, our children can all smile.
And they can dance.
They dance in their wheelchairs, exuberantly spinning through the crowd.
They dance in their walkers, swaying back and forth in the center of the circle.
They dance in their leg braces and full body braces, lifted high on their fathers' shoulders.
They dance in their mothers' arms, gently rocking back and forth to the music.
They don't just dance with their bodies; they dance with their souls.
The circle of dancers began slowly, hesitantly, as if anxious about our children's disabilities. But on this night, our children did not want to be confined or protected. They wanted to dance. And dance they did. As the tempo of the music grew more insistent, the circle of men grew faster, more exuberant. Those children who could control their own movements formed their own circle in the center of the ring of fathers and brothers. And those who could not, were held, lifted or twirled into the heart of the dancers. Everyone was equal on that night. No one was left out. Everyone was dancing.
The dancers came from every segment of Jerusalem's varied population. There were bare headed men, clean shaven men with khaki pants and white knitted kippot, bearded men with black suits and hats, men with long curly peyote and streimels. The children were dressed in every color of the rainbow. There was no division between them. Everyone was dancing with our children.
I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I didn't let them fall. That night was not for tears.
Standing on the side and taking it all in, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I didn't let them fall. That night was not for tears. There had been plenty of time for tears throughout the year, times for frustration, for pain, for anxiety. That night was a time for celebration. Not a time to focus on our children's lacks, their weaknesses and disabilities, but a time to celebrate their abilities, their strengths, their uniqueness. A time to dance.
As I looked at the crowd of women -- mothers, grandmothers, teachers and therapists -- I saw the same feelings mirrored on every face. Feelings of love, of joy, of pride in our children. We were celebrating the special soul inside each one of them, that holy inner spark that burns as pure and clear as on the day it was given. Within the deformed bodies, we all saw the radiantly perfect souls.
And seeing those souls is what our lives are all about. Our task on this earth is not to judge people by the color of their skin, dress or yarmulke. Our task is not to judge people by their looks, talents, intelligence or education. Our task is not to judge people by their abilities or disabilities. Our task on this earth is to discover the pure soul within; the inner spark of Godliness that unites us all. Despite our differences, we are all brothers.
A few more nights like this one, a few more nights of unity without regard for our trivial man-made dividers, and we will all be able to join hands as one to greet the Messiah.
And then we will all dance.