Hinda and Robert Mizrahi were recently honored with OHEL’s Children’s Advocacy Award at the OHEL Annual Gala. This is an edited version of Hinda Mizrahi’s moving speech.
I grew up with two “regular” brothers, four “regular” sisters and four developmentally disabled brothers. As a consequence I am looked at with both awe and skepticism. I am someone to socialize with and befriend, but not someone to get too close to, or even marry because my genes are considered blemished. My special brothers, who I would not trade for anything in the world, are considered imperfect and defective. I have seen people believe that they can dictate to God what challenges they want in life. But I have learned that God only gives what he knows we can handle. It is up to us to rise to the occasion.
I am told that there is such a thing as sibling rivalry, that siblings are jealous of one another, or fight so much they can hurt one another physically and mentally. I wouldn’t know. Because in my family of 11, we never fought, were never jealous, and certainly never used words like moron, stupid or crazy. We defended each other. We cheered each other on. We knew from a young age what challenges really meant. While some may poke fun at you for reading funny, or not reading fast enough, we knew there were those who couldn’t read at all. So we coached each other, gave each other tips, and tried to help each other succeed.
When a friend came over to play and another sibling wanted to play along, we let them because we saw the hurt when one of our brothers waited for a friend to play with but no one came. We were good to our friends, too. When we were captain of a sports team, or brought our ball to play with at recess, we made sure everyone who wanted to play got picked for a team – no matter their ability, because we saw and felt rejection when one of our brothers sat on the side lines day after day, wishing to participate in a game.
When we were counselors and color war captains, we made sure each person had a place and felt included; because we saw our brothers fight with everything they had to be included and be just like everyone else. We saw as young kids what it really meant for parents to want their kids to be the best that they could be, and not what parents wanted.
Who would have believed that my father, a prominent Orthodox Rabbi of a large, illustrious community, and my mother, daughter of a world renowned Rosh Yeshiva, would send four of their six boys to public school, and set their goals as simply saying ‘shema’ and blessings every morning, slowly and clearly, and to greet everyone they met with a nice ‘shalom’ and strong handshake while looking them in the eye?
We learned what responsibility as a parent really meant, as my parents would get up and pray with my brothers every morning and say ‘shema’ with them every night. Even today, when they live in an OHEL Bais Ezra home, they still pray with them, never relying on others to do what they believe needs to be done.
We were reminded daily of the proper way to treat our parents as our brothers always listened to what my parents said, never spoke back to them or talked in a disrespectful manner.When I stepped out of line, even before my parents had a chance to discipline me, it was one of my special brothers who would say, “Hindy, that is not the way you talk to a mother!” And how can you argue with someone who has limited intellect, and is right? We learned that when a sibling starts singing in a busy street, on a rainy day in April, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, we could be happy for him, that he made the connection of “April showers bring May flowers,” something we probably all understood right away but took him longer to comprehend. More importantly, there was nothing any sibling could do to embarrass us because we experienced very early on that being different still offers something unique to the family. In our home, there was never a bad morning because every morning meant a new day, a new beginning, something to look forward to.
Monday mornings were especially exciting because Monday and morning both started with the letter “m.” We knew the importance of structure because structure has a way of keeping things in line and manageable. But we learned very early on that life is unpredictable, and you can plan and hope, but humans and children are not robots, and things sometimes happen or change – just because. We learned how to make sacrifices. Yes, it hurt that I couldn’t get a Cabbage Patch doll when all my friends had one. But if it meant my brother got an extra physical therapy lesson and he could now ride a bike – I was excited for him and I learned to play with my friend’s doll.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, I learned the true meaning of love. I learned what it means to love someone and not see their faults, and to love with no strings attached, because in my brothers’ eyes I am perfect; they love me for being me and expect nothing back. They are truly excited to see me every time I see them, or they see a friend of mine.
They call me daily to say hello, yet when they meet someone who knows me, they will ask them to send me their regards because I am their sister, their perfect older sister. This past summer, we suffered the death of one of my special brothers, Moishe. A friend of mine, who hadn’t had the opportunity to meet Moishe commented that he never saw grown men cry at a funeral like they did at Moishe’s. Over a thousand people were at his funeral, a few hundred at his grave side; many cancelled their vacations to be around for shiva, as they mourned and felt Moishe’s loss. So the next time you meet someone who looks funny or acts funny, whose mental capacity is different, remember they are not just a physical body with a gene or two that went wrong. They have a special story to tell. They have a unique story to share. Get to know them. Get to know their parents and their siblings. You will be transformed. You will be inspired. You will become special.
Growing up, I always wondered what would happen with my brothers when my parents could no longer care for them. Would my siblings and I be able to care for them like my parents did? Would we be able to give them the love and security that made them so happy? Now, I don’t have to worry because I know they are in good hands. At their home in OHEL Bais Ezra, they are people not numbers.
They have healthy meals; go on outings, trips and summer vacation. They go to work or programs and they are surrounded by caring staff. They even got to pick the paint color of their bedroom before they moved in.
And when tragedy struck our family, OHEL was there to help in every way they could, whether it was a doctor’s appointment, overnight hospital stays, or even breaking the sad news to my brothers the right way. They laughed with us, and cried with us. They have shared in our joys and in our sorrow. But this is not an honor that belongs to me alone. It is an honor I share with my siblings; my ‘special’ siblings, because they helped make me who I am today. They made me worthy of receiving such an honor. It is an honor I share with my ‘regular’ siblings because it is their story, too. It is an honor I share with my husband, sibling-in-laws, and their parents because they didn’t see us as damaged goods, but rather as siblings of a beautiful story. It is an honor that I give to my parents, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Reisman, the true owners of the story. They are the master story tellers.
Thirty plus years ago, when situations like this were kept hidden in the closet and not talked about, they realized they had a beautiful story to tell and brought it to the forefront. It is a credit to their outlook and acceptance of life and their guidance through life that a small story of young children became a grand story of grown adults. It is an honor that I, along with my parents and siblings, thank God for choosing us to be the vehicle to tell this special story.
And thank you OHEL for all that you provide my family, the comfort, the care and the peace of mind. And for allowing me to share my story.