Everyone knows the hora. Even if you have never been to a Jewish celebration yourself, I am sure you can picture it. Everyone is happy, everyone is dancing in a circle, often someone is up in a chair in the center. It’s like a poster image for inclusion—you do not need a partner or a clique, you just jump in, grab a hand and are immediately part of the joy.
Except…if you have special needs that make loud noises, weird lights, crowds, and other big event characteristics really hard, not to mention the gross motor planning required.
My younger son loves Jewish traditions and celebrations. He has confused many non-Jews by wishing them a mazel tov, a shanah tova, a Shabbat Shalom or a yasher koach. He chants blessings and prayers under his breath. And I believe he is the only child at our temple who prefers to not leave Saturday morning services to roam the halls.
But the evening parties, they are more like a disco than a service. It is hard to even enter the party room for him—let alone join in. For a long time, we did not bring him or his twin sister to the big, loud parties. I told people they were too young. Except she was not too young. That fact was obvious—within moments of entering her first party, she was in front of the DJ booth and following along with the dancers. (She then won me the fuzzy pink dice that hang from my rearview mirror on that dance floor.)
The parents of children with special needs talk about “inchstones.” We should celebrate the small moments of victory instead of mourning the big things that are out of reach. This always feels especially difficult because my child with special needs has a twin, a mirror of all the things he cannot do. And it is inversely difficult to celebrate her milestones when he is so far behind.
A friend who has two children, one of whom has special needs, once told me that it helps her to think about it as a journey with two different paths. Sometimes one child’s path is far from the other’s, sometimes they travel together, but they are both moving toward something. Years later, I still try to see our paths.
It may have taken my son years of hiding in the hallways at bar and bat mitzvah parties, wearing his goofy noise-canceling headphones, playing on my husband’s phone to distract himself, but inch by inch, he followed his sister onto that dance floor.
About a week ago, our whole family was at a bar mitzvah party and he danced the hora. He let the director of the Hebrew school grab his hand and pull him in. The dance floor was crowded and loud and crazy—but he did it. I have never celebrated a hora more.
The bar mitzvah was for a Hebrew school classmate of his older brother, the mother is a lovely friend, the father grew up on the same street as my husband, and this was the celebration that he danced the hora. May it be the first of many.
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