By Talia Friedman
On Sunday, March 8, 2015, Rutgers Chabad and Rutgers Hillel co-sponsored a Purim party with Yachad, an organization for people with special needs. Over thirty-five people who are developmentally different, a dozen Rutgers students, a Hillel Rabbi, and a Chabad Rabbi attended the event. Not only did guests participate in festive dancing and ice breaker games, but they also decorated Hamentashen cookies and created cards for patients in St. Peters Hospital.
This event united both Rutgers Chabad and Rutgers Hillel as well as Rabbis and students, groups who are seemingly different but in reality share their Judaism and much more in common. Although as Josh Herzfeld, a senior majoring in psychology and an attendee clarified, “It is not about labeling people with special needs; it’s equality and inclusivity. We all celebrated together.” Discouraging the usage of any physical labels, Herzfeld clarified the purpose of the event and organization further when he commented, “Yachad, is to bring people from such different backgrounds and abilities together” without using labels.
Sara Goldberg, a Rutgers student and event organizer, picked icebreakers and activities that anyone can participate in. “We try to communicate in ways they can talk to us,” Goldberg elaborated, “Sometimes we view their actions as irrational and do not realize those actions are another means of communicating. They [the people with special needs] are members of the community who deserve to be included and we can learn so much from them. We understand life in a different way by interacting with them. The event went great.” Indeed, no matter what the individual’s physical capabilities were, everyone could work together with food coloring and other ingredients to bake Hamentashen cookies. Anyone could introduce themselves in an ice breaker game, and, of course, any one could dance. The Yachad staff was very enthusiastic and excelled at encouraging participation by everyone. In our daily lives often labels are slapped on to people, and thus society defines their identity and their role in the community. However, working with Yachad at this event made such categorizations seem insignificant.
The palpable unity was most certainly noted by attendees. Sophomore Becca Meiner, also majoring psychology commented, “I had great conversations with the Yachad members and loved dancing with them. We can learn so much from each other.” Herzfeld also complimented on the unifying nature of the event when he explained, “It was nice to see how people from different backgrounds all come together and feel comfortable at this event. It was completely inclusive, all of us celebrated as a collective unit.”
The event modeled Jewish unity. Labels are not just limited to people. We encourage segregation by classifying different Jewish sects as well. Yet, it is important to remember that at the end of the day, no matter how different we may seem, the Jewish people are like one family, one people. After all, if we do not build each other up then who will? The Purim party with Yachad reflected this theme of unification, and many of the attendees hope to build off of this trait into the future.