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With Music and Love, Joy-filled Bar Mitzvah Party Hits the Right Notes

For Hamaspik Family Care Beneficiary, Rite of Passage is Part of Care—and Integration

August 10, 2015

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

It was an ordinary Bar Mitzvah—and, in terms of disability integration, exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

Immediate family, extended relatives, classmates, friends and even neighbors were there.  The tables were elegantly set.  The room was brightly lit.  The air was filled with buoyant music.  It was the classic 13th birthday coming-of-age celebration in every way.

Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Shea Silber and kin are a well-established and respected family in the New Square Chasidic community of upstate New York.

They’re also providers with Hamaspik’s extensive and successful Family Care program.

Under the rubric of that initiative, the largest such non-profit effort statewide under the auspices of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Hamaspik’s participating providers, loving parents like the Silbers take in precious souls with intellectual disabilities and give them not just room and board, but their very hearts.

That’s certainly the case with Zevi—the night’s center of attention.

The precocious and spunky lad has lived with the Silbers since infancy.  Born with a moderate case of Down syndrome, Zevi has given his family moments of love that far outweigh any challenges of special-needs parenting—all courtesy of Family Care.

That program provides modest fixed stipends to participating families—plus regular and ongoing support from provider-agency Family Care Liaisons and other staff.

And in return, provider families give children with special needs the typical, healthy and well-adjusted lives they all need and deserve.

Including your average and unimpeachably ordinary Bar Mitzvah.

It was the evening of Wednesday, July 29, 2015, and the Hamaspik Terrace social hall on the premises of Hamaspik of Rockland County’s administrative center in the heart of Monsey was all aglow.

Mr. and Mrs. Silber warmly greeted each guest as he or she arrived.  Some placed wrapped gifts, or inscribed envelopes, on an entranceway table, then making their way into the hall to socialize with familiar faces.  A keyboardist took up one corner at the end of the room, merry music flowing from a sound system embracing the entire chamber.

And at the center of it all, decked out in his new hat and coat as befits a proper Chasidic young man, was Zevi, feeling every bit the man of the hour that he was.

Had it been anyone else, nothing at the scene would have appeared any different.

Following the customary washing of the hands before breaking bread to inaugurate the meal, Zevi and his guests sat down to dinner.

Various courses were served by uniformed waiters while Mr. Silber and other celebrants, including Zevi’s schoolteacher, took the floor to thank guests for attending—and, of course, offering their warmest “Mazel tov!” wishes to the Bar Mitzvah boy.

With the main course complete, spirited dancing took the floor as the men and boys gathered in an open space to let their feet speak joy.  Zevi was shortly hoisted up on a chair, as is commonly done at such celebrations, and quickly found himself head and shoulders above the crowds, all eyes upon him. 

That focus continued for another good 20 minutes, as, music pounding, Zevi variously joined hands with his father and brothers, classmates, and greater family and community members.

Later, Zevi and family posed for a succession of photographs, culminating a Bar Mitzvah celebration and driving home the message that the boy was now a man to his family and community.

The fact that the Bar Mitzvah boy has a disability?  A trifling footnote.