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    This past Shabbos, I
    found myself
    davening at the shul
    with probably the
    worst decorum in the
    world. People were
    not just talking, but
    some were screaming, shrieking, and
    hollering, others were stomping their
    feet, banging on the tables, hitting the
    walls, and jumping up and down. There
    were individuals pacing back and forth,
    others coming in and out, doors
    constantly squeaking and slamming
    shut. It was, by far, the most distracting
    davening I have ever experienced. It was
    also, by far, the holiest davening I have
    ever been privileged to witness.
    The Shul at Camp HASC is filled with
    boys and girls and men and women with
    special needs, physical and
    developmental disabilities including
    autism, Down’s Syndrome, cerebral
    palsy, and others. Few can participate in
    davening in the traditional sense; many
    are not verbal, and most don’t seem
    cognitively capable. Yet, one cannot
    help but feel the noises being transmitted
    from the holy, pure neshamas of HASC’s
    campers ascend to the highest places of
    To be clear, HASC doesn’t have a staff,
    they have a roster of malachim, angels
    who selflessly devote themselves in
    ways that are superhuman. Because of
    the level of care and support necessary,

    each camper has a counselor, a one-to-
    one ratio. They shower, change, carry,

    push, cradle, and most of all, smother
    their campers with love.
    At davening, the staff members hold
    their siddur in one hand and their
    camper’s hand in the other, or they
    interrupt their shemoneh esrei to pursue
    their camper who is on the move. As we
    belted out a beautiful and leibedig
    Kabbalas Shabbos, several campers put
    on talleisim, each thinking they were the
    chazzan, while younger campers sat on
    their counselors’ shoulders, those who
    could danced in circles and others
    watched from their wheelchairs, often
    contributing a moan, groan, or shriek.
    A visit to HASC is an accelerated
    advanced degree in Chesed, an invitation
    to access the biggest Beis Medrash of
    Ahavas Yisroel in the world. You cannot
    come out the same way you entered as
    you leave a witness to Klal Yisroel’s
    capacity for kindness, for loving a fellow

    Jew with no judgment or conditions, and
    you cannot help but be inspired to
    improve your own.

    Over Shabbos I met an autistic, 15-year-
    old young man named Zev, who is

    mostly nonspeaking. Until recently, little
    was known about his thoughts, feelings,
    and aspirations. After days of diagnostic
    testing, the “experts” had determined
    that Zev had the intelligence of an
    18-month-old. But in the last few years,
    Zev and his similar friend and fellow
    camper Srulik have worked with an
    extraordinary communication therapist
    who utilized the latest techniques to
    teach how to type and communicate
    It turns out that while on the outside
    Zev and Srulik seem developmentally
    stunted, often unable to understand, they
    take it all in and is filled with deep
    thoughts, ideas, and Divrei Torah.
    Last month, in honor of his sister’s
    wedding, Zev’s parents published a
    booklet of his Torah thoughts that he
    typed letter by letter. The first entry,
    Zev’s first Dvar Torah, said the following:
    Moshe Rabeinu could not talk perfectly.
    In spite of this disadvantage, he was our
    greatest teacher. It seems to me the
    lesson is clear. It is not the talking that
    makes a man great, it is the listening and
    understanding of the messages of
    Hashem. I think I never had the ability to
    know my listening was my strength
    because I looked only at a lonely, quiet
    life. Now I have hope for my future, the
    chance to learn Torah, to become a
    mensch, may you be inscribed in the
    book of life!
    The booklet has entries on several
    parshiyos, Jewish holidays and
    concludes with a message Zev typed to
    be shared with students of a class he
    joined to study Torah three times a week:
    My name is Zev, I am happy to learn
    here. I have autism and I cannot talk very
    well, but I think normally. Please do not
    be concerned If I make noise or organize
    things. I may not be able to control my
    impulses. Please talk to me normally and
    not simplified. I look forward to being in
    Navi class.
    One of the first things Zev shared was:
    “My brain is smart; my body is dumb.”
    As I read this pamphlet and looked at
    Zev, I simply couldn’t believe it. What
    was happening on his inside did not

    match what I could see
    on the outside.
    Externally, he was
    “broken,” disabled, and
    seemingly a typical
    special needs individual.
    On the inside, he was
    whole, smart, capable,
    thoughtful, and
    articulate. The staff
    member who introduced
    me to Zev and his Divrei Torah told me
    this breakthrough not only enormously
    transformed the way he views Zev, but it
    has also had a tremendous impact on the
    way he views all the campers, especially
    the non-verbal ones.
    The bottom line is this: We have no idea
    what is going on inside a person, what is
    happening beneath the surface. And
    then it struck me, this lesson is of course
    true outside the walls of Camp HASC
    and it applies in both directions. How
    many people who seem “whole” on the
    outside are really broken inside? How
    many who seem abled on the surface, are
    in fact disabled emotionally or spiritually
    beneath it?
    The Mishna (Pirkei Avos 2:5) teaches:
    “Al tadin es chavercha ad shetagia
    limkomo — don’t judge your fellow
    until you reach his place.” One can
    never, ever reach the place of their
    fellow, we can’t know their experiences,
    history, unique personality, assets and
    liabilities, talents and temptations, so
    how could we judge them? If we are
    honest, we don’t even have access to
    reach their place, their innermost world,
    what is happening inside, so how could
    we have an opinion or sit in judgment?
    I am not saying we shouldn’t hold
    accountable those who have used their
    free will to injure, harm, or make choices
    that impact others negatively. However,
    Chazal are enjoining us not to assume,
    judge or disparage simply based on what
    we see. One would have to “reach his or
    her place,” something we simply cannot
    We find ourselves in the three weeks,
    the period of mourning and grieving for
    the tragedies of Jewish History, the
    destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, and
    for the challenges we continue to face

    today, including antisemitism and anti-
    Israel efforts. Our rabbis were not shy in

    telling us the cause of it all, and the
    reason redemption has not yet happened:
    sinas chinam, hatred, animosity, enmity,

    and judgment of one another. When we
    focus on our differences, when we see
    the deficiencies in the other, we sit in
    judgment, we feel tension.
    When entering Camp HASC you must
    walk past a large banner that sets the
    tone for everything that happens on that
    holy campus: “I hereby accept upon
    myself the positive commandment to
    love my fellow as myself.” The
    inspiration for the sign at the opening of
    camp comes from the Arizal’s suggestion
    for the opening of our davening. The
    great Arizal taught that before we can
    speak to Hashem to pour out our hearts
    for what we want and need, we must first
    pledge and promise to love Hashem’s
    other children, to see what we have in
    common, not what divides, to give the
    benefit of the doubt, not sit in judgment,
    to practice ahavas chinam, unconditional
    love, not sinas chinam, baseless hate.
    A different Mishnah (Avos 1:6) tells us:
    Hevei dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf zechus,
    judge each person in a favorable manner.
    Rav Menachem Benzion Sacks points
    out that the Mishnah subtly includes a
    strategy for judging others favorably.
    Rather than say hevei dan ha’adam
    l’chaf zechus it says hevei dan es kol
    ha’adam l’chaf zechus, judge the entire
    person favorably. The key to drawing
    positive conclusions is to remember
    there is, in fact, an entire person, an
    inside and outside, what you can see and
    know, and what you will never fully
    For those capable of doing more, we
    should strive for better decorum than the
    HASC Shul. And if we want to bring
    Moshiach and end this galus, we must
    adopt the HASC Shul’s environment of
    unconditional and non-judgmental love
    and the HASC’s entry sign that charges
    us all, knowing that while at HASC
    some look broken on the outside and
    they are whole on the inside, there are
    those in our communities who look
    whole on the outside but really are
    struggling with brokenness inside.