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I was recently in New York for work. I went to friends for Shabbat lunch and another family I know was there. The wife said, "I was just talking about you last night." She told me that the discussion at the Shabbat table was about families that have made the big move to Israel and she was telling people that we are an example of a family that made a seamless transition and are happy. I laughed; I guess all those positive Facebook posts can be deceiving. I certainly have not found the move easy at all and I am definitely not settled. Our kids on the other hand, have settled into Israel like fish to water. Meron took about 3 days to settle in and Temira 3 months, but the real hero of our Aliya story is Caila.
It was Caila’s birthday last week and her birthdays are always a time of reflection for me. Eight years later I still hear the pediatrician's words, "Mrs. Samuels did you do genetic testing?" Eight years is a lifetime ago. I marvel at Caily's progress and how much she has achieved. She has exceeded our wildest expectations in every way. In fact so much so that it is sometimes easy to forget just how incredible she is.
Moving to Israel I feel like I have a taste of what it is like to be both blind and deaf. In addition to figuring out the language there is the cultural disconnect as well. Even though I have progressed in my Hebrew studies and my understanding has improved speaking is such a huge challenge. How much more so for Caila with expressive language speech delays? Yet she is speaking, making herself understood and correcting my masculine / feminine/ present / past / future tense grammar!
Caila went to four different schools over twelve months. She started school at SAR in New York then we moved to Israel and she went mid-year to Kindergarten (Gan Horva) in Israel. She then started first grade at one school and 5 weeks later we moved her to a different school. She entered each new environment with a smile and confidence. She has had to accommodate to a new language, new culture, new friends, therapists and babysitters. She went from a school with 18 kids, 3 teachers and her full time support to 32 kids, part time support and somewhat chaotic Israeli school environment. Yet in spite of all of this she comes home smiling and literally skipping almost every day.
My heart sometimes breaks for her when she gets into trouble. She is not a naughty kid yet she has moments in school when she does not have support and I she becomes overwhelmed and resorts to immature, impulsive behaviors. Last weeks, some kids told her she was ugly so she hit them and was sent home. We don't condone use of violence but I know that many days managing my daily life in Israel I have to use all my self-control not to lash out at people. I feel overwhelmed everyday so I imagine how she must feel. When she first started school there was an incident when she did not come back to class after a recess. This caused a commotion at school and Caila got into trouble. When I asked her why she did not come back to class her eyes went big and she said "Imma all the kids ran away and I did not know where to go – I was just lost".
Caily is extremely social and seeks out friends. We knew from first grade one of the biggest challenges of inclusion would be the social component. There are definitely additional challenges especially as girls socialize more and more by talking and less with playing and this is more difficult for her. We as her parents have chosen the path of inclusion she has chosen to rise to the challenge.
For eight years we have been fighting for Caily. First we fought for the maximum early intervention services, then for MDS to accept her and our struggle to find Jewish day schools willing to take her. This challenge continued in Israel with no less than eight schools in Jerusalem being unwilling to take her. Now the struggle continues to make sure that she is not just accepted but truly included. I can only say that none of this vision of inclusion could be actualized without a truly incredible eight year old girl who is showing the world what can be achieved with true grit and dogged determination.
Of course, there is, as in any heroic drama an amazing supporting cast too long to list – there have been principals and dedicated teachers, administrators and support staff, parents of Caily’s school friends who have reached out for playdates, therapists and friends who have joined us on this exciting and scary journey. There are always reasons not to do inclusion – budget, resources and challenges. These unsung heroes have held our hands and walked with us and share in the joy of the emerging story of Caila.
Thank you Caila for teaching all of us that anything is possible.