The Common Denominator:
Children with Special Needs
A woman who sits in the front row, wearing a black veil, seeks the advice
of Mohammed Aliwa, the deputy qadi for the Lod area. "I have a 14-year-old
son with Down syndrome," she says. "He is our first child and also the first
grandchild in both families. We've done everything we can for him. The
problem is that he won't leave the mosque.
All of Ramadan he wouldn't leave there and he fasted every day. When I wake
him up in the morning, right away he starts to pray and won't go outside to
catch his ride to school. "I'm a believing woman, but not to the point that
I think he should miss school for this."
The deputy qadi agrees with her. "At seven in the morning, we have no
prayer, and if you get him up in the morning so he can get to school on time
and everyone agrees that this is what is best for him, then he has to go to
Aliwa is one of three clergymen who took part in the meeting at the Sapir
community center in Lod last week. He and the Reverend Samuel Fanous of
Ramle and Rabbi Amit Kula of Lod met with a group of parents from Lod and
Ramle who have children with disabilities ranging from physical handicaps to
At first glance, this looked like an inter-religious encounter whose chief
purpose was the basic fact of the encounter itself - three religious
authorities from different religions, who each lives his faith and teaches
about its values, coming together to discuss religious matters and answer
questions. But the purpose of the meeting wasn't to strive for greater
harmony between the religions, and it wasn't all about peace and
reconciliation. This was a grass-roots initiative by residents from varied
ethnic and religious backgrounds, whose meetings are dedicated to the needs
of boys and girls with disabilities and to the challenges shared by those
who care for them.
The clergymen who took part in this particular session are active in their
communities in Ramle and Lod on a daily basis, and their mission here was to
provide spiritual support, to advise and to help parents of special needs
children find acceptance and optimism. The Lod Forum for Families with
Children with Special Needs began meeting less than three months ago.
Osnat Zohar, director of the Lod Rehabilitation Center, which works with
toddlers age one to three with mental retardation or cerebral palsy, started
the group and leads the meetings. She says that a number of public
organizations and foundations have pitched in to keep the forum running,
including the Lod Municipality, the Community Center Association (hevrat
hamatnasim), the Kibbutz Seminar, and organizations that deal with services
to disabled children, such as Pashar (an acronym of pitu'ah sherutei revaha
- welfare services development), Ilan and Akim and special education
schools. Several dozen Jewish and Arab families from Ramle and Lod
"In our framework in Lod there is a mixed population and it's accepted very
naturally," says Zohar. "The common denominator for parents of children with
special needs is very strong and it doesn't matter if you're a Jew, a
Christian or a Muslim."
The discussion topics at the forum are numerous and varied, and there is no
direct connection between one meeting and another, either in content or
form. The meetings take place once every two weeks, in the evening. In the
first weeks, the parents heard lectures in Hebrew and Arabic about the
rights of disabled children and their families in Israel. Later, they talked
about the impact that raising a special needs child has on the family, and
heard from the mother of a severely retarded boy, who, according to that
session's title, "turned pain into power."
Last week, the discussion was about how religion relates to disabilities,
and at the next meeting, the parents will view a solo performance by a
disabled boy and then hear a lecture about social education and sexual
education for disabled teenagers.
Zohar says that the meetings in Lod, which are advertised on the Internet by
the Kesher organization and through SMS messages, have also drawn families
from Netanya and Nazareth, which goes to show what a need there is for such
A woman in the front row, who identified herself as Samira, said this was
her first time at a meeting and that it made a very powerful impression on
her. "It was very exciting," she said. "I, and I think a lot of other
parents like me, have guilty feelings for having brought them into the
world, for maybe not having done enough for them. The religious perspective
is very important to me. I was surprised to discover that all the religions
see this subject in a very similar way. After this meeting, for the first
time I can say that I feel that we are not to blame."
The discussion about the religious significance of giving birth to an
abnormal child was quite charged. "In our religion, one has to know that
everything comes from God. We have to believe that this is a `heavenly
decree,'" said Aliwa, and added that the prayers of a disabled child are
more easily answered because of his innocence. Father Fanous, pastor of the
Anglican community in Ramle, said that there is "a divine reason" when a
child is born with some type of defect, and he quoted from the New Testament
where Jesus says of a man blind from birth: "Neither hath this man sinned,
nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."
Fanous also said that there is perfection in the Creation, and explained
that "faith in God cancels out all defects."
Rabbi Amit Kula, head of a Beit Midrash in Lod, said, "People frequently
think that if someone has a defect, that it's somehow catching. There is a
fear of the strange, of the other. The Talmud says the beautiful and the
ugly are all God's creations and therefore, your duty as a human being is to
accept. Our sages throughout the generations describe people with
limitations who were the leaders of their time, including Moses. Jewish
sources say that precisely because of their innocence children have
tremendous power. There's something special about this simplicity, about
this innocence. The greatest mitzvah that the Torah commands us is to follow
in the ways of God, and, in relation to God, we are all limited.
This is the fundamental concept."
Source: Ha’aretz, February 3, 2004.
A Silent Majority for Peace
By discussing the result of a recent poll conducted among the American
Jewish Community between January 12 - 15 2004, D. DeLee, President and CEO
of Americans for Peace Now, challenges commonly accepted ideas about this
community’s attitude regarding a more active and evenhanded engagement by
the U.S. in trying to broker an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Wrong Exit
Y. Beilin, one of the architects of the Geneva Accords, critically discusses
the announcement by Prime Minister A. Sharon of his intention to withdraw
unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and a few settlements in the West Bank.
Beilin argues that: “for all the public fears over concluding a permanent
status agreement […] it is hard not to see that unilateral disengagement
leaves Israel at best with what a full-fledged agreement would leave Israel
In this commentary on the Geneva Accords, B. Michael, columnist for the
Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, discusses in depth the issue of
settlements and proposes creative solutions to what he considers to be a
shortcoming of the Geneva Accords: the consent to absorb settlers who are
willing to reside permanently in the future Palestinian state, while
granting them all of the rights associated with the status of residency.
Common Ground News Service
– February, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle
From the Common Ground News Service