Apr 10, 2017  By Yossi Kahana  Category: Special Needs,

On Passover, the importance of including the invisible fifth son

The author and his son, who's teaching the family that every child has unique abilities.

JNF's Task Force on Disabilities

We open the Seder with an open door, "Ha Lachma Anya": inviting in the hungry, the needy, and the enslaved, offering up the matzah as part of our welcome, a beautiful message offered freely, and inclusively to all. Then we read about the four sons, each representing a different type, a cross section of the Jewish nation. What links the four together, despite their very different personalities and levels of observance, is the fact that they are all an intrinsic part of the Jewish people. At Pesach, we celebrate together with them, as they all join us at the Seder table.

But there is also a fifth son -- one not mentioned in the Haggadah, and not discussed at the Seder, because he is usually not sitting with everyone else.
It is difficult for this child to connect with others.  He cannot use the same language to communicate, and he often seems to live in his own private, inaccessible world. This fifth son is a child with disabilities. 

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his Pesach Haggadah, writes "…What transforms the bread of oppression into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share it with others….” Being willing to share and include is also the first step in creating community buy-in and acceptance of those with disabilities, while freeing ourselves of that very human fear of difference. Breaking matzah together can ease the way toward reducing discomfort --- over an evening replete with ice-breaking conversation and group activities.

An inclusive community is reminiscent of those first seders in Egypt -- doors open, tables set, bags packed -- ready and hopeful for a community adventure all would experience together.

Our child has autism and he is always teaching us the meaning of unconditional love, that every child with disabilities has unique abilities and that we should be focused on helping people like him and most importantly welcoming him and bringing him and people like him to the Seder table with the rest of us.  

I am currently in Israel for the holiday, and already there is a palpable sense of excitement within JNF’s extended family in anticipation of the upcoming holiday, and the opportunities that are available for our children. JNF's work for people with disabilities in Israel, which I am privileged to lead, ensures that this child -- and all of our children with disabilities -- will have the same sense of belonging, of being part of the family, of being an integral part of the Jewish nation.