At Shutaf, we're blessed with many supporters and friends as well as advisors and good people who believe in our mission – acceptance and inclusion, quality programs and friendships, for all kids, especially those with special needs. Thank you all. How else will we teach the world to repair itself – tikkun olam – without important initiatives such as Shutaf? (This I ask myself after a hard-working week, when I wonder if we'll make it to 3 weeks of funding for our August summer camp when the bank balance is looking lower.)
A recent partner is the Church of Grace and Peace, along with Pastor Walt and his team of dedicated clergy and laypeople. We were introduced to the church by Rabbi Richard Hammerman, who served as Rabbi in congregation B'nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue in the area before moving to Caldwell where he's now the Executive Director of Agudath Israel – he's supposed to be retired but Rabbi R is no ordinary mortal. Rabbi Richie is a dedicated member and supporter of Masorti Olami, the worldwide voice of the Conservative movement. A family friend of Shutaf's co-founder, Miriam Avraham, Richie and his wife Sharon have been a part of our mission almost since the inception and sit on Shutaf's International Advisory Board.
Rabbi Hammerman had a special opportunity recently – to speak about Shutaf at one of the church's evening's for Israel. A night that celebrates the Jewish State and offers timely information as well as ways of making personal connection, it also is a night to offer funds to projects that are making a difference, especially in Israel.
We're excited about this opportunity. It's a special one for us. A chance to share our message and learn from the good work of another organization – one that's stated goal as listed on their website is "building the people that shape the world." That's a pretty good goal – I'm signing up.
Read Rabbi Hammerman's report – in his own words – about this moving evening. Thank you Richie and thank you Pastor Walt for your inclusive thinking!
Shutaf – A PARTNER
Why should a parent or a grandparent help children with special needs? One reason is because you have children with special needs in your family. Another reason is that you are grateful that your children or grandchildren don’t have special needs.
Through Israeli friends who have pioneered this volunteer effort, Sharon and I got involved in the work of Shutaf a small organization which runs after-school and summer programs for youngsters with special needs, including Down syndrome, in Israel, integrating them with “typical” children, mainstreaming them for fun, learning and celebrations. We got involved because we’re blessed with children and grandchildren who are “typical” and felt that our small efforts could make a difference.
We recently introduced the Church of Grace and Peace, an Evangelical mega-church in our former community of Toms River, NJ and their Christian Academy to this program. At the Church’s annual “Night to Honor Israel” they dedicated their $7000 “offering” to the work of Shutaf and will soon begin video-conferencing between the Shutaf program in Israel and the children of this Toms River based Christian Academy. Christians will learn about Jews and Israel- and will also learn how to integrate children of special needs and mainstream them in New Jersey. Shutaf participants will learn that even non-Jews, living thousands of miles away, care about them and want to learn about Israel, the birthplace of the Christian faith.
I was asked to present the Invocation to this inspiring and lively evening of support for Israel and celebration. I decided to teach the Church- goers some Hebrew. I explained the meaning of Shutaf. Though not a biblical noun, shutaf is found in rabbinic literature. The Palestinian Talmud, I explained, taught that the Holy One, blessed by He, “shutaf-partnered” with Israel to share His great name with Israel. In the Talmud of the Diaspora, the rabbis of Babylonia taught that the greatest mitzva is to be a “Shutaf”- Partner with God in His sacred work on behalf of all of his children, Jew and Gentile alike.
I suggested that we should each try to be a better partner-Shutaf of God and join Father Abraham and Mother Sarah, King David and the Prophet Samuel, the Rabbi of the Galilee, Jesus and the Apostles in being partners with God in caring for the weak and the strong, the able and the disabled, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. God needs us to be His partners in His work on earth.
Isn’t that our role as Jews? To be God’s partners on earth and share that sense of mission with our Christian, Moslem, atheist and agnostic neighbors and friends? Isn’t that our job as Jews, as believers in God, as proud inheritors of a 4000-year old heritage? Isn’t that why Abraham and Sarah chose God, and God chose Abraham? Try to be a Shutaf with God every day, and bring God’s work a little closer to fulfillment.
Rabbi Richard Hammerman