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For those that don’t know me, I’m Menucha Cooper - proud to be a shlucha of the Rebbe at Chabad Malvern and together with Reuvi very proud busy parents of 5 beautiful incredible children. 

Our 4th child Mendy has Angelman Syndrome which is a rare chromosomal disorder that effects many aspects of his daily life.
 
 
When Reuvi and I were approached to bring shabbat together to Melbourne we were extremely eager and excited as this really struck a chord with us.
 
Mendy and indeed our entire family are truly blessed to be a part of such a warm, understanding and caring community - Chabad Malven. Mendy is just one of the gang here at Chabad, crawling around shul in the men’s and women’s section where everyone is so loving and caring towards him. He loves playing in the playroom and of course enjoys the delicious kiddush. He truly feels like he belongs in the shul and is a valued member.
 
As his parents we don’t take this for granted as I have heard from many friends who have children with special needs, who unfortunately don’t have the same experience in the shul they go. So to the Chabad Malvern family we say Thank you.
 
That’s why we were so passionate to bring this shabbattogether  to Melbourne to make sure every Jewish child and their families have a sense of belonging to their shul and community.
 
Being Mendy’s mum is a huge privilege and responsibility. What he has taught me in the past 5 years is unmeasurable and I am truly blessed to be his mum.  One important lesson is the way of I think and view other people with special needs or people who are just a bit different. As always the Rebbe is our guiding light in all aspects of our lives. The Rebbe taught us to look at every human being as an image of G‑d and has a G‑dly soul within them. Yes our bodies, abilities might be different as it says in the Zohar the hidden teaching of the Torah. Our bodies may all be different yet our souls are all the same. Therefore everyone has the right to belong. 
In our personal lives we have seen many times where Mendy has been welcomed and belonged and unfortunately times when that was the opposite. For example last year Mendy attended mainstream yeshiva kinder where the teacher and boys embraced him and went above and beyond.  One such example, in the weekly newsletter each child was asked which animal is their favorite? BeinG Mendy is non-verbal they wrote we think Mendy’s favorite animal is a giraffe as he always crawls to the giraffe toy and loves playing with it. That is a belonging.

 

We recently were lucky to go to Israel and take Mendy to the Feuerstein institute for a month of intensive cognitive therapy. Professor Reuven Feuerstein the founder was an exceptional and revolutionary man. After the holocaust when he came to Israel he started teaching and accessing child survivors of the holocaust. One of his roles was to access the child and work out his or hers IQ and then determine if they need to be sent to a home for under privileged children or to a place of typical functioning children. During one of his assessments he asked one boy to draw himself. The boy drew a stick figure however the arms and legs were not attached to the body. With his caring eyes and huge smile he said “My dear look at your body where are your arms and legs?” The boy then looked at his body and then drew a body with the hands and legs connected. Feuerstein soon realized that an average IQ test could not test these children who had witnessed the horrors of the holocaust and believed very strongly that with mediated learning and a lot of cognitive therapy every child can learn, understand and achieve.
 
He was extremely passionate that every child deserves a chance and stressed the importance of Vahavta Lerecha Kmecha loving another and treating someone like you would want to be treated. When you walk in into the institute in Israel the love, acceptance and belief is remarkable no matter what race, religion or ability.
Each and every therapist treated Mendy with such dignity, respect and love and as a valued human being. They did everything they could to make Mendy blossom and grow, which he did so well BH.
This is what inclusion - belonging is all about. 
Soon after Mendy was diagnosed I started a support group for mums with young kids with special needs in the Jewish community and unfortunately we hear time and time again where this is not the case and families often feel isolated and no sense of belonging and often rejected.
 
We feel blessed as a family to have been given the opportunity to go to Holland with our special gift magical Mendy. Holland along with its challenges and many ups and downs is also a very happy, special and unique place with extraordinary people who are often living angles.  I’ve often heard “if you want to know how to treat someone with  special needs look at their siblings and I can honestly and very proudly say Mendy has the most caring and supportive siblings Moussia, Yoav, Yitzchok Dovid, and Zelda who inspire me every day with their pure unconditional love and acceptance and enrich Mendy’s life every day. You are the true example of living a life of inclusion. Thank you for being the best cheering squad Mendy could ever have. 
 
So let’s travel together to Holland and Italy and visit the beautiful sights together as one.

 

On behalf of Chabad Malvern we just want you to know that Chabad Malvern doesn’t take this Shabbat as a one off and we will be leading the way in making this into the way we run Chabad Malvern. To this end we have begun creating guidelines and ideas of different ways to put this into action. For example all our forms from now on will have a section with a question asking what specific needs do you or someone in your family have that we can help accommodate. These guidelines will be sent to all shul’s and communities who we will take on the same.