Saying Kaddish for a Friend

Last week, one of my best friends, Stan Pollan, died. We both moved to Madison around the same time 32 years ago and met a few months after we moved here, when his wife Ellen was pregnant with their eldest son, Henry. Stan’s parents and my wife Sheryl’s parents had been friends for many years before we met and encouraged us to get to know each other when we started living in the same city. Stan, Ellen, Sheryl and I are forever grateful for the encouragement our parents gave us to get to know each other.

About two weeks before Stan died, he asked me to say the mourner’s kaddish for him after he died. Stan was born Jewish, but he was not very observant. We regularly invited his family to our house for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover, which they appreciated. However, the only time I saw him in a synagogue was on Yom Kippur, when he would come to my synagogue to say the mourner’s kaddish for his parents after they passed away. So, of course, while dismayed that my dear friend was dying, I was honored to be asked to fulfill one of his dying wishes.

What I did not anticipate was that as Stan’s death drew nearer, his family asked me to organize and officiate at his funeral. I am not a Rabbi and I have never officiated at a funeral, but despite the challenge, I was further honored by this expanded role. I worked closely with Stan’s sister-in-law, Cheryl Siegel, to whom I will be forever grateful for her deep sense of caring for what Stan and his family wanted at his funeral. As she and I both told each other, through Stan’s loss, we each made a new best friend in each other.

It was very important to me that the funeral honor Stan’s wishes, as well as those of his immediate family, so I talked with Ellen and Stan’s sons the day after he died to discern what they wanted. They made clear that they wanted the service to be short, simple and sweet, including some music, and to be sure that any Hebrew was both translated and transliterated so all those present could understand and participate. Over the next two days, working with Cheryl Siegel, Ellen and her sons, Stan’s brother Jim, our friend Jason Garlynd, who did a reading at the family’s request, and the musicians, Jeff Laramie and Bruce Wasserstrom, we pulled the service together. Just an hour and a half before the service started, I picked up the copies of the service we quickly created from the copy shop.

Jeff Laramie opened the service with a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ song, In My Life, during which some thunder roared. I told the mourners that was Stan applauding. I also made clear to them that I was not a Rabbi and this was my first time officiating at a funeral. Despite that, I have since heard that many people told the family that the “rabbi” did a good job. Someone even asked me for my card after the service. I reminded them that I did not officiate funerals professionally.

Before we got to the kaddish, I led some readings that all the mourners said together. However, since the family wanted Jason Garlynd to do a reading, he agreed to read the following:

Ahavat Olam-Love of the World (interpretive version-Rami Shapiro)

 We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us

Even when we are hidden from ourselves.

We are touched by fingers that soothe us

Even when we are too proud for soothing.

We are counseled by voices that guide us

Even when we are too embittered to hear.

We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us

even in the midst of a fall.

We are urged on by eyes that meet us

even when we are too weak for meeting.

We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled…

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;

Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love.

The next day, we received a call from Stan’s eldest son, Henry, who invited my wife and I to join him and a few friends on a canoe trip the following day. We were honored to be asked so we gladly joined Henry, his best friend Ben, Jason and his son True on the Bad Fish Creek which due to heavy rains had swollen into a raging river. Henry wore his father’s captain’s hat and it made me think back to when Sheryl, Ellen, Stan and I canoed together when Henry was very young. Despite very challenging conditions, including capsizing, navigating logs through rapids and ducking under many branches, we all had smiles on our faces and felt that the blue heron that led us down the river may well have been Stan’s spirit guiding us along the way.

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From left to right, Jason, True, Sheryl, Henry and Ben, at the end of a lunch break.

There is a Jewish tradition that we say, May his memory be a blessing, after someone dies. I truly believe that Stan’s memory is and will continue to be a blessing and through the many memories of his kindness, his life will truly be eternal.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Diaspora Gathering

My wife and I just returned from spending over 2 weeks in Israel. This trip was not your typical tourist trip. In fact, with the exception of one night in Mitzpe Ramon, home to the gigantic and beautiful Ramon Craterwe spent every other night staying with family and friends.

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Sculpture overlooking the Ramon Crater

Our son, Josh, is in his second year of college at the TechnionIsrael’s Institute of Technology, in Haifa, and this was our first opportunity to visit him there. He plays hockey with the Haifa Hawks, and coincidentally, the first thing we did on our arrival was watch him play hockey.

Josh also led us on a walk on  the beach of the last Arabic town on the Israeli Mediterranean, Jisr al Zarkawhere beauty, history and poverty are all intertwined.

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Fisherman pulling in their net on the beach at Jisr al Zarka

In addition, my mother and her husband are spending the winter in Netanya, where they have spent every winter except last year for the past 12 years, and we spent most of our nights with them. It was a pleasure to spend quality time with them in the place that has become their home away from home.

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My mother Rachel and her husband Peter

As I reflect back on what was primarily a visiting trip, I realize that, like most Jews, while my family is spread around the world in what is known as the diaspora, as they fled oppression in Europe prior to the Holocaust, Israel is the place where some of the family with whom I am closest as well as childhood and college friends, have returned and made a life for themselves.

Part of my family fled Europe, but were not allowed into the United States to join the rest of their family in the 1930s, so they settled in Mexico. One of my Mexican cousins, Isaac (Pelon) Leventhal, immigrated to Israel when he was 18 years old in the early 1970s. After meeting him in Mexico City at his sister’s wedding just before he emigrated, I have visited him numerous times in Israel from 1976 through this most recent trip. As he and I have grown older, we have married and had children, and now he and his lovely wife Eli, have 8 grandchildren. Our son has had the opportunity to get to know these cousins better while he studies in Israel, and we were able to visit all of their homes and families during our stay. The warmth of my Israeli family will stay with me for the rest of my life even though time and distance separates us.

I even had the opportunity to visit friends on Kibbutz Ein Gev, where I volunteered during the winter of 1979-80, while my cousins Pelon & Eli lived there. Coincidentally, a friend from England, whom I volunteered with so many years ago, was visiting the kibbutz at the same time we were there and we had a small reunion with our friend and kibbutznik Uzi.

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At the end of our trip, we traveled to Mevaseret, a suburb of Jerusalem to stay with an old college friend, Richard and his lovely wife Michal. They led us on a beautiful hike on Har Eitan, after which we traveled into the city of Jerusalem to visit an old childhood friend, Galia, and her husband Roni for lunch.

It is truly an understatement to describe Israel as one of the most controversial nations in the world. Almost everyone has strong feelings about it, both positive and negative, and while I love that Israel has provided refuge for millions of Jews, including family and friends, it saddens me that Israel has been unable to resolve its generations old conflict with its Palestinian neighbors.

Due to my love of Israel and hope for its survival as a just, peaceful and democratic state, I have taken on a leadership role in advocating for a just and peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by becoming Chair of the Madison chapter of J Street, which advocates for a two state solution to resolve the conflict. My advocacy is quite public so both my family and friends in Israel are quite aware of my positions, most of whom do not agree with me.

Despite our political disagreements, our love for each other is not diminished. In fact, my choice to repeatedly visit family and friends in Israel to maintain our relationships and better understand their lives there serves to enhance our relationship. On a few occasions during our recent trip, both friends and family were clear that they disagreed with my positions, but I often successfully found small, but important points where we did have common ground. Equally important, our disagreements never interfered with our ability to have warm and loving relationships.

As I reflect back on how my friends, family and I can agree to disagree, and not let that poison our relationships, I hope that the lessons I learned in Israel can be applied to the often poisonous political conflict in the US. After all, when friends and family can love each other despite their disagreements, one realizes that one warm hug can overcome virtually any political dispute.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

 

Preserving Friendships Takes Effort

In the Internet era of Facebook and Twitter, some of us may be deluded into thinking that we have hundreds or even thousands of friends based simply on highly superficial electronic relationships. But real friendship involves more than liking someone’s Facebook post. Real friendships provide support during life’s difficult moments and shared joy when celebration is in order.

Preserving friendships in our highly mobile world has become increasingly difficult as we all have busy lives and many of us relocate periodically requiring extra effort to sustain friendships with those who may live hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

I recently had the good fortune to gather with former college housemates who joined together for a long weekend in Tucson from as far away as New York and Alaska and many points in between. As we are all in our 50s, some of our adult children even chose to join us.

Back in 1977, a group of University of Michigan college students, some of whom I knew from high school, and others who met each other freshman year, found a large 9 bedroom house to rent located on 300 E. Jefferson St, in Ann Arbor. Little did we know, that an ever widening group of friends would cycle through that house for the next 4 years, and build friendships that for some of us have lasted over 40 years. One of those friends, was my dear friend Rick Radner, who inspired me to write Treasure Each Dayafter his sudden unexpected death from a heart attack just over a year ago.

After Rick died, I contacted many of my 300 E. Jefferson friends to let them know of this tragic loss. We had periodically joined together for reunions, but had not done so since 2010, and with Rick’s passing, it became clear that it was time to gather again. I called Jane Stein Kerr to discuss planning a reunion, and she contacted Ron Borkan, who agreed to handle the logistics of setting up a time and place and contacting everyone. My gratitude runs deep for the effort that Jane and Ron made to bring us together once again.

Ron has lived on and off in Arizona for many years, so he agreed to plan some lovely excursions. On our first full day together, we traveled to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tucson providing an opportunity to view some beautiful desert scenery and wildlife. Towards the end of our visit there, we viewed a raptor flight demonstration and as this Harris’s Hawk swooped and soared above us, I had the definite sense that Rick had joined our gathering, reminding me that true friendships never really die.

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Of course, not everyone could make it, and that led to a discussion during at our last dinner together, about what caused us all to remain in touch and make the effort to gather in Tucson, many of us from thousands of miles away. What we realized is that true friendship is intentional and sustaining such friendships takes real effort. That includes periodically making room in our busy lives to travel and join together not only to reminisce about our college days, but to update each other on the many developments that have made up our varied lives over these many years, including new marriages, children graduating college and going on to work, getting pregnant and coping with illnesses and injuries. Our shared commitment to each other inspired us to make plans to gather again in a couple of years.

I have worked hard to preserve a number of groups of friends both near and far. None of them can be taken for granted. Nor can I assume that without sustained effort to preserve these friendships, will they always remain there when I need them as life presents its inevitable challenges.

Just before I headed to the airport to return home from Tucson, I spent the morning and then had lunch with 2 of my closest friends, Jim and Susan Cantor, who live in Alaska, so we don’t get to see each other very often. Jim and I met and became friends in high school. We became housemates in 300 E. Jefferson during college, and then spent 2 months exploring Europe and Morocco together in 1979. Jim met Susan during college and after I returned from Europe in 1980, the 3 of us shared a rented farmhouse outside of Ann Arbor. Although we do not have the chance to see each other very often, we keep in touch and support each other when we need the support of old and dear friends. As Jim & Susan’s warm smiles indicate, their marriage and our friendship remains strong.

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It is probably no coincidence that although there were 2 friends who brought relatively new wives from a second marriage, 5 other couples were still in their first marriage. Those marriages have all lasted over 25 years, with my marriage to my wife Sheryl being the longest, going strong for over 33 years. It is no coincidence because these friends who make such regular and significant efforts to preserve our friendships are the kind of people who understand that a successful marriage is a unique kind of friendship that requires effort to preserve as well.

The fact that we have committed to support each other and reunite periodically over many decades leaves me confident that we will continue to do so as long as we live. In our often difficult world, friendships such as these are well worth the effort to preserve.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

In Praise of Sidewalks in my Neighborhood

My wife & I have lived in the same wonderful Tenney Park neighborhood in Madison, Wisconsin,  for 29 years, and in the same house on a one block street for the past 23 years. Located just a couple of miles from the University of Wisconsin campus and downtown, many of my neighbors commute to their jobs by walking, biking or taking the bus.

As our son prepares to leave home for college, and my wife and I contemplate the next stage of our life, we often reflect on the special nature of our neighborhood. A couple of nights ago, on a beautiful evening, we decided to walk to a local restaurant about a mile away for dinner. The walk was lovely, but what made it extra special was that every few hundred yards, we stopped to engage in conversation with neighbors, who are also our friends, who were also out walking. This was not mere chance. Our neighborhood helps to form a cohesive and friendly community, in no small part, because of its sidewalks.

Sidewalks help build community because they create good places for interaction. A good resource for creating good places for interaction is the Community Tool Boxout of the University of Kansas. As they explain:

Good places for interaction are places where people – often from many parts of the community and/or diverse backgrounds – meet naturally and interact comfortably and often pleasurably because of the nature or attraction of the space and/or the activities associated with it.

While sidewalks are only one of many ways that good communities are built, they are invaluable as an easy and casual way for neighbors to interact and naturally get to know each other. The Community Tool Box goes on to list 11 great reasons to create good places for interaction. They can:

  • help to develop a sense of community pride and ownership.
  • help build a true sense of community among people of diverse origins, backgrounds, and points of view.
  • make the community a more pleasant place to live because more people have contact with one another.
  • increase the general enjoyment of life in the community.
  • increase safety and security.
  • improve the livability of neighborhoods.
  • promote individuals’ understanding of one another’s culture and humanity.
  • provide a forum for the exchange of ideas.
  • They can increase equity.
  • They can increase social capital, particularly bridging social capital.
  • They can expand children’s horizons through interactions with people who have different assumptions and expectations. Some time ago, I wrote about our neighbor’s Giving Tree across from our house which exemplifies the importance of this point. Here are some neighborhood children playing on that tree. IMG_1529

Of course, there are many other places for good social interaction, including parks and plazas, but sidewalks are critical as they allow for easy access for neighbors to meet and greet each other on a regular basis, thereby building friendships and community. In just one walk to dinner, my wife and I were able to check in with 7 neighbors (and some of their dogs), who have become our friends by being such good neighbors. Neighborhoods with sidewalks should relish and maintain them. Neighborhoods without sidewalks should strongly consider building them to build better and stronger communities.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Friendship Over Decades and Distance

Thirty-six years ago, after graduating from college, my wanderlust took me to Europe, North Africa, and by the winter of 1979-80, I arrived at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, where I spent the next 4 1/2 months as a volunteer. I chose Ein Gev because I had cousins, Pelon and Eli Leventhal, who lived there, and I felt confident that I would be welcomed.

Ein Gev pic

What I did not expect was that the vast majority of volunteers were European non-Jews. They came for many reasons, ranging from support of Israel, support of the socialist ideal as manifested on Israeli kibbutzim, or simply as a relatively inexpensive adventure.

Even more surprising was that, living in close quarters with like minded young adults created an atmosphere, where despite our vastly different upbringings, a few of us formed deep and lasting friendships that have lasted for 36 years, and now include spouses and children.

But making friends, and keeping them are 2 different things. Keeping friends over so many years and such a long distance takes work. It takes communicating, which in the early years was mainly through letters, and over the years, has expanded to phone, e-mail and Facebook. However, friends who never see each other can have a hard time remaining friends. So, during these many years, I have made a concerted effort to gather together with some of these dear friends.

Earlier this month, a few of us had a small reunion in Rouen, France where one friend, Jeanmarie Daburon, lives. As Jeanmarie spent more time at Ein Gev over a period of years, he also invited some of his friends whom I did not know. While I originally had some concern about how these two sets of friends would get along, once we met, and shared our common stories of kibbutz life and how life has transpired in these many years since those days long ago, we found much in common and made new friends with each other. When I saw my German friend Sybille, for the first time in 33 years since she met my wife Sheryl and I in Paris during our honeymoon, we gave each other a deep hug of friendship, that I will never forget.

IMG_2705 Here is Jeanmarie enjoying a good cup of French coffee with my wife Sheryl.

After shopping in the lovely outdoor Farmer’s Market in Rouen, Jeanmarie led us to his cousin’s country home in Jumierges, where we enjoyed an idyllic French picnic and looked at Sybille’s old pictures of kibbutz days and shared many stories.

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During our last night in Rouen, we gathered for dinner and asked ourselves how we had maintained our friendships for so many years. My answer was simple. “It takes work,” I said. Friendship doesn’t just happen. Friends work to maintain the shared commitment to each other’s lives that results in a meaningful relationship that can survive decades and distance.

This shared commitment was especially evident through the generosity of our English friends, Alistair and Debbie Schofield, whom we have travelled with many times, to each other’s homes, and elsewhere including in New York, Paris, and Egypt. This time, Alistair and Debbie asked my wife Sheryl and I if we would like to drive down to the French Alps, after the reunion, as they have a friend with a small apartment there who lets them stay there for free! We jumped at the opportunity, not only because hiking, biking and relaxing in the French Alps was a truly wonderful idea, but because it gave us yet another chance to deepen our longstanding friendship with Deb and Alistair. Indeed, it was a wonderful week to spend with such dear friends.

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Now, we’re home and back to work, but we returned home knowing that we did the very pleasurable work so necessary in maintaining these special friendships for many decades to come. I feel blessed to have such dear friends over so many years and such a long distance and I look forward to maintaining these friendships for the rest of our lives.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Treasure Each Day

Over 20 years ago, I represented a low income African-American single mother in a federal housing discrimination case that went to trial.  The defendant was a particularly nasty man and one of his attorneys behaved unethically as the case headed to trial.  My client was a religious woman, and read Psalms in her Bible throughout the week long trial.  Each day when I asked her how she was doing, she said, “I’m blessed.”  At the time, I found this truly remarkable, as she had lost a child in a house fire in St. Louis before moving to Madison where she experienced housing discrimination.  Clearly, she knew something that I did not about treasuring each day, and the jury agreed, awarding her with a $95,000 verdict after finding the landlord liable for discriminating against her.

A few days ago, I was reminded of how important it is to treasure each day when my wife and I received the shocking news that our dear friend, Rick Radner, who introduced us 35 years ago, passed away from a sudden heart attack.  He left behind a loving wife, 3 children, brother and sister, and a funeral home packed beyond its seating capacity full of friends and other family members.  Shortly after I heard this devastating news and made arrangements to fly to Detroit to attend the funeral and provide what comfort I could to his family and be amongst friends, I turned to my 17 year old son, and said, “This is why you should treasure each day.”

2015-01-richard-radnerI had known Rick since high school, and we remained close friends for 40 years.  We talked regularly, including just a few days before he died, and shared our philosophies of life, constantly learning from each other.  Rick and I attended each other’s children’s Bar Mitzvahs as well as each other’s weddings, and took 2 incredible hiking trips, one with 2 other dear high school friends to visit my family in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, in Mexico and then traveling by train to the unparalleled beauty of the Copper Canyon, exploring its beauty.  Some years before that trip, Rick and I embarked on the most arduous hike either of us have ever taken, descending to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a National Park in southern Colorado.  The climb is so steep that there are no trails, and there were a number of times when I questioned whether I could take the next step without falling and injuring myself.  But, somehow each of our survival instincts kicked in and we found our inner strength and persevered.

1024px-BlackCanyonBefore I left for his funeral, my wife recalled that no one made her laugh harder than Rick.  He used to call my wife a “leaker” because he made her laugh until she cried.  This memory made it all the more touching, when his sister Nancy recalled Rick’s own wonderful laugh during her beautiful eulogy and even gave the standing room only crowd attending the funeral a rousing imitation of his hearty laugh.

Towards the end of Rick’s funeral, the Rabbi quoted the Psalms 34:13-15 to describe Rick beautifully:

Who is the man
Who desires life
Who loves all his days
To see good

Guard your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit

Turn away from bad
And do good
Seek peace
And pursue it

May Rick’s memory be for a blessing.  May those of us who remain on this earth remember that our lives are fragile so we must treasure each day.  For me, that means devoting myself to my family, my friends, my communities, and playing my small part in making the world a better place.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems contact him through his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

My Wife is My Best Friend

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine, Ruth Brooks, passed away, after a long struggle with multiple ailments.  As soon as I found out she had died, I called her husband, one of my dearest friends and mentors, Michael Brooks, to extend my condolences, see how he was doing, and reminisce about Ruth.

I have known Michael & Ruth for over 40 years.  When I first met Michael, I was in high school and he was a graduate student at the University of Michigan.  We met because he was my Hebrew high school principal and taught a number of my classes.  We quickly bonded and have remained close friends ever since.  In fact, he officiated at our wedding over 32 years ago.

Although Michael mentored me in many ways, perhaps the important way is the way that he and Ruth opened my heart to the possibility of a loving & respectful marriage. Unfortunately, I grew up with parents who did not love or respect each other and between watching their dysfunctional relationship and observing our media’s portrayal of so many dysfunctional marriages, before I met Michael and Ruth, I was convinced that marriage was something to be endured for the purposes of procreation and social acceptance, but not to be enjoyed.

That changed when I moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan and regularly visited Michael and Ruth’s home, often for a Sabbath lunch.  I marveled at their love for each other and the way they respected each other.  At one point, I told Michael how his marriage impressed me tremendously.  He responded by saying that, “my wife is my best friend.”

This truly stunned me as this type of marriage was completely foreign to my existence, and I told him so, to which he responded, “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”  This heartfelt declaration which Michael and Ruth lived with such great mutual fulfillment for so many decades truly opened my heart and mind to the possibility that I, too, could find a woman who could be my wife and my best friend.

A few years later, I fell in love with Sheryl who has now been my wife and best friend for over 32 years.  Here we are celebrating our anniversary a couple of months ago.

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When Michael & I spoke about Ruth and I reminded him of this story, he told me that the last words she said to him was to thank him for making her life more exciting than she ever could have imagined it would be.  In turn, he thanked her for keeping him more grounded than he would have been without her.

This type of mutual assistance is critical to a strong, loving, respectful relationship that allows a marriage to endure the trials and tribulations of life.  In the case of Sheryl & I, we provide many things to each other, but to boil it down, I believe that Sheryl has softened my approach to life and I have helped her gain self-confidence to speak up for herself when necessary.  We both hope to live and stay happily married to each other at least as long as her dearly departed grandparents, Eugene & Lillian Fishgoll, who died 2 weeks apart at the ages of 98 & 92, after 74 years of marriage.

A happy, healthy marriage is good for the couple and any children they may have.  In this era of high divorce rates, reminiscing with Michael about his marriage to Ruth and reflecting on my own fulfilling marriage with my dear wife Sheryl, helps me get over my grief of the loss of my dear friend.  I am forever grateful to Michael & Ruth’s example.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

Inclusion as a Path to Friendship: Time to End Segregated Schools

During the past few weeks, I have been blessed to reunite with old friends going back over 3 decades.  In England, I reunited with friends from England, Scotland and France, with whom I worked as a volunteer on Kibbutz Ein Gev in Israel during the winter of 1979-80.  In Idaho, I reunited with an old high school friend who lives in Delaware now, as we hiked in the White Cloud Mountains.

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These reunions helped me recall how important friendships are not only in my own life, but how critical they are for anyone who desires to live a fulfilled life in what can often be a challenging world.  Yet, through my many years of advocacy for children with disabilities, I have learned that one of the biggest challenges for them is whether typically developing children will welcome them into their circle of friends.

In their book, Friends and Inclusion, the authors correctly describe a significant flaw in our disability service system:

People who are at risk are often seen by the public, community organizations, and families as first and foremost needing services and the help of professionals. While this response is sometimes useful, it can impede the development of meaningful friendships. Our society for the most part still assumes that people with disabilities mostly require services rather than a rich life in community with friends.

They go on to point out that:

The opportunity to have real friends occurs through participation in family, school, neighbourhoods, and other places where people gather. Real friendships are genuine caring relationships where people share common interests, love and respect each other, and want to spend time together. Contrary to the idea that these kinds of friendships can only happen naturally, our experience is that discovering and building real friendships often requires intentional or deliberate action.

Recently, a child therapist who works with many children with disabilities expressed shock to me that Wisconsin still has publicly funded segregated schools in which all the children who attend those schools have disabilities.  Indeed, there are 3 such schools, Lakeland School, in Walworth County, Syble Hopp, in Brown County, and Fairview South, in Waukesha County.  While these schools and the parents who send their children there will certainly extol their virtues, among the reasons I have represented many parents who do not want their children with disabilities to attend these segregated schools, is that they deny the opportunity for their children to make friendships with typically developing peers.

As educator Helene McGlauflin notes:

Establishing friends for students with severe and profound disabilities is best done intentionally. Like most schools, our school has always grappled with how to integrate students with very special needs into the regular classroom and the entire school with dignity, respect and an awareness of their particular educational needs.

Purposefully creating a group of friends for each student has given our inclusion efforts more structure and focus. It has required special education teachers and regular education teachers to more carefully coordinate when, how and why the special needs students are in the classroom, examining times and activities when the friends can help with the integration process.

Thus, placing children with disabilities in segregated schools denies them the opportunities to make friendships with typically developing peers.  Indeed, this can have long lasting economic and safety implications, as it is common knowledge that most people gain economic success through networking with friends, and it is far more likely that a friend will assist a person with disabilities in a time of need than a stranger.

In the name of friendship, which we all treasure, it is time to end the public funding of segregated schools.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.