Akiva and the Missing Glasses. A NeverEnding Story.

Now, where did I leave you?

It was early June when in the space of one week, 2 pairs of Akiva’s glasses went missing.

The story has continued in amazing, astonishing and mystifying ways.

BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER, please don’t tell us to get him glasses with straps – been there, done that – or to get his glasses personalized – we have – or tell us he’s a candidate for LASIK surgery – right now it’s not on the table – or that he should have contacts – if you’d like the job of putting them in and removing them, but know he’s not a candidate.

HappyPic

Akiva and his glasses – previous pair

HOW IT ALL BEGAN: Two pairs of glasses gone in a week. One pair went missing at school. One pair went missing at Shalva.

DIFFERING REPORTS: What really happened and when the missing glasses were first noticed as gone.

STRANGE MOMENT: One month later, 1 pair reappeared only to go missing again a week later.

THIS WEEK: We swapped him into a cheaper $80 online spare. That pair was grabbed and broken by someone yesterday, at Shalva.

GLASSES COUNT: That’s 3 glasses in 6 weeks.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Ira put on his detective hat and went and chatted up the afterschool bus drivers. The bus and what happens on the bus, is of course, a black hole. One driver said, “sure I know Akiva wears glasses.” Ira inquired if he’s ever found a pair on the bus, and believe it or not, he went and fished up a pair saying who’s are these? Guess what, They’re Akiva’s but an older pair from who knows when. Can you imagine? The bus driver never once asked at school or Shalva, or the children and teens on his bus, if anyone recognized the glasses.

SAID BY STAFF: Now we know to check Akiva when he comes off the bus. That’s because we’ve never discussed this before? And what happens in September, that is if I’m not in jail by then, when you have complete staff turnover as you do each year?

SAID BY OTHER STAFF: These things happen.

The facts as we see them.

AKIVA’S FRAMES: Akiva has worn the same frame for some time as it’s easy to replace online and fits him reasonably well. And, they have his name on them. Ok, it’s in English but seriously. He does occasionally wear another style – yes, they have a strap and yes, that doesn’t matter.

AKIVA’S VISION: Akiva is -9, or 20/1000! He’s significantly nearsighted. Measuring his sight is done passively, but we’ve seen, as he grew accustomed to glasses, how much they help him see better. Yes, people with Down syndrome are often over-corrected but we see that he does need some kind of correction.

Akiva also has strabismus (he’s cross-eyed), and nystagmus (rapid eye-movement, now much better), and has had corrective surgery (as have all 3 of our children, as it runs in the family).

GLASSES COUNT: We estimate 17 pairs. Since 2006, when we moved to Israel, we’ve ordered glasses online, through a few local shops in Jerusalem (1x a year we get a Maccabi discount), and through our cousin the optometrist (good glasses too high a loss factor).

What’s next? Don’t know.

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The Problem of Summer Holidays and Working Parents

by: Alisa Fox Coleman, Director of Organizational Advocacy

It’s nearly the end of June. It’s the time that panicked parents ask themselves, “what am I going to do with my kid for the next two months?”

My youngest son is 10, he is the first of my four kids to go through the long and hot, two-month summer holidays while both of his parents are working full-time. We feel sorry for ourselves as parents, having to juggle child-care, and find answers to the problem of the summer. Most of us parents get 14-18 days of holiday each year. Summer holiday is 45 days – these are just  logistics but does anyone think about the summer from our kids point of view?

Going to school is tough, and I am not just talking about the academics. Peer pressure and teacher expectations are an ongoing challenge during the course of the year.

Holidays should not be about any of that.

Holidays are for fun and relaxation – all those adjectives we would use for taking a break from the conscious and subconscious struggles of the school environment. At least, that’s what I think holidays should be.

Holidays are also  a time for informal education. They’re for a different kind of educational experience – of equal importance to every child as the school year is. As a child and teen I remember waiting until my next camp experience. I made so many good friends at camp. I learnt about myself, and how to live and work in a group setting, first as a camper and then as a counsellor. If I could go back to camp tomorrow , I would.

Camp Shutaf Is an oasis of calm amongst the storm of yearly peer interactions . Quality counsellors, and a relaxed family-style environment with fun, low-tech camp activities.

Every child is treated as an individual with their own preferences, abilities, and moods.

When a child walks in to camp in the morning, whatever mood they may be in they will be greeted by counsellors who care,  staff who want them to be happy and have fun.

Sounds obvious, but as we all know as parents, camp is often like a factory – rushing kids on and off buses, and from activity to activity. Often, kids don’t feel good about themselves if there is an activity in which they are forced to take part. Or, it is run by counsellors who are young, and without the proper tools to deal holistically with the kids in their care.

On my vacation, I personally do not want to be forced to do anything that I don’t want to do!

So what is different about Camp Shutaf? Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem offers inclusion day camps three times  a year during longer school holidays, for children with and without disabilities. Camp Shutaf’s biggest program is August camp. This summer, 135 participants, ages 6-23, will enjoy 3 fabulous weeks of day camp in Jerusalem.

Shutaf’s innovative, reverse-inclusion model combines a majority group of participants with varied developmental challenges (75%) with a smaller group of participants (25%) without disabilities.

How does this work you may ask?

Firstly, there is a long waiting list for the campers without disabilities.Shutaf’s inclusion ethos, professional program planning and staff training ensures an excellent program in an uniquely, accepting environment .The camp provides quality, personal attention , an inclusive and accepting atmosphere all of which you can only describe when you have seen it in action.

The counsellors listen to the needs of all the kids in their charge. Every kid has good days and bad days or days when they arrive at camp not in the mood.The difference is that their counsellors will listen and be patient and do their best to accommodate and be there for them.

When you do not label kids special things happen. All the kids are looked at as individuals with their own feelings and needs.

The counsellors are not told before who has the disability, they work on dealing with each kid in their charge individually.

Many professionals in the field of disability  have gone to visit Shutaf over the years, and they all admit that it is difficult to tell which are the kids with disabilities and which are without .

When you focus on kids having fun with an emphasis on peer- communication , everyone wins.

Honestly, I wish I could spend my vacation, doing fun activities in a chilled fun environment where people care about me.

Wouldn’t you?

I’m sure all of our kids would.

Alisa

2 Glasses in 1 Week. Who’s Responsibility Is It?

Hey,  you keeping score at home?

Akiva just lost another pair of glasses on Thursday.

School says he got on the bus with them.

Shalva says he got off the bus without them.

And I say, “Are you kidding me?”

They got lost on the bus. The bus? It’s like Switzerland. Nobody’s responsible. Bus companies are a law unto themselves, with little requirement to offer anything beyond the most basic of services. After all, the company chosen to ferry a city’s children to and from school – an important job one would think – only win the contract because they were the lowest bidders.

There’s a special place in hell for bus companies.

Drivers? They’re generally a likable lot. Matrons? Some are better than others., and bottom line, they are deeply underpaid. You know what? You get what you pay for.

Akiva Blog

In the ten years of Akiva losing his glasses in Jerusalem, somewhere during the course of his day – and often on the bus – they’ve never been found. What do the bus drivers do with them? Do they throw them out because they can’t be bothered checking in at their various stops to see if they belong to anyone. Only once, and they weren’t Akiva’s, did a bus driver find a pair of glasses and return them to us.

Again, I remind you that Akiva is significantly nearsighted. It’s not like you can pick up his glasses and use them to read the phone book. Truly, they’re only useful to him.

By the way, the recent pair of Akiva’s glasses have his name engraved on the earpieces. Yes, in English, but it is his name. A nice personalized touch that has proven to be useless.

When I asked the lovely and responsible National Service counselor for his group at Shalva why Akiva’s glasses aren’t looked for as he gets off the bus, (as if we haven’t discussed keeping an eye on his glasses before), she said, “well we’re not always there to take him off the bus,” but she’ll make sure they’ll pay more attention next time.

What should I do with that?

Nothing as it turns out. I’m too furious. And we don’t have another spare on hand.

Why? Because we’re lousy parents I guess.

It’s June. The craziest time of the year. I’ve had 3 weddings in the past 10 days, alongside rehearsals for summer Shakespeare, while by day, preparing for Shutaf’s critical summer fundraising campaign for camp due to begin in less than 2 weeks.

I guess, stupidly, we thought we had a grace period before the next pair would go. But I’ve often observed, losing glasses comes in 2’s and 3’s. Well we’ll avoid the 3rd loss as we have nothing to give him this time.

Ira, who was landing in NY as the news played out on Thursday, will make a quick order but it can take up to 3 weeks to get them delivered. Should I pop over to the local glasses store and order a $350 pair? I could but with 2 glasses gone missing in 1 week, I’m shockingly reluctant.

That means Akiva goes fuzzy. Out of focus. Unable to truly see well, until the $50 replacement pairs arrive.

And it’s nobody’s responsibility, as it turns out, but ours.

Akiva and the Missing Glasses: A never-ending story of Disability and Vulnerability.

Let’s talk about vulnerability. And don’t go putting your sad and supportive face on, thinking, “Oh, Beth’s about to tell us another Akiva story.”

I am, but that’s not the point.

I’m here in the house, staying cool, doing my happy Friday thing, fruit crisp in the oven, Ira out buying whatever he’s decided we need.

My phone bleeps. Ira’s telling me some story about Akiva’s glasses being thrown off the walkway at school. The teacher called all flustered with some whole ‘meysa,’ or story, which we immediately tune out. What’s the point in listening? Someone grabbed them off of his face. He was clearly not in a supervised space – whatever, can’t supervise everyone at all times – and the glasses landed, wherever they landed, to join Akiva’s other gone-missing-never-to-be-found-glasses that go missing in a given year.

Ira and I, the good Anglos that we are, buy more glasses. Heck, we support Zenni optical, ordering 4-6 glasses yearly.

The school? They do nothing.

Akiva has lousy sight and while he’s kind of cool being out-of-focus in his daily life, we are not. Wearing glasses has been a task that we’ve worked on, assiduously, since he was about 7 years old. It took years for him to accustom himself to them, and indeed agree to wear them. While he doesn’t necessarily ask for them, he gets that they have some use for him in his daily life.

Akiva also, like many of those with Down syndrome, has a small face, little ears, and a minuscule nose bridge, making fitting him in a good looking pair of glasses a challenge. We’ve tried many types of frames, going back and forth between the more expensive stretchy frames with better quality lenses which we buy locally (they fit the best), to cheaper online options that do the job less comfortably.

Beth and Kiv

What’s school supposed to do? I should be grateful, I guess, that Akiva’s not at risk for the stuff that’s standard procedure in Israeli schoolyards countrywide, where tough and even bullying behavior is too often excused as the norm.

Ira and I get that you can’t keep your eyes on every student, and every event that goes down. We really do. But what about Akiva’s vulnerability in this? What about his inability – truly – to protect himself? What happens – and I assure you I worry about it daily – when the boys are all sent off to use the facilities before breakfast? Who’s watching them then?

In an educational system – and this is a worldwide issue I’d say – predominantly staffed by women, at a certain point, boys are left to do their own thing in the bathroom. Builds independence and all that.

Bullshit.

If a person is vulnerable, then we must be charged with protecting them.

If a person is vulnerable because of disability or age or illness or whatever, then we must put a plan in place for assuring them their safety. Always, and at all times of their lives – cradle to grave. That’s what social services is supposed to be about.

That’s what building and securing the person’s well being – regardless of specific need or age – is all about.

And in childhood, when the responsibility is shared by many different agents, from school to after school programs to other children’s homes on playdates, that becomes complicated.

Parents presume – or they wouldn’t send their children off – that the these other environments have claimed responsibility for them.

Should they?

Can they?

“So, what are you thinking about – for Akiva – after next year?” asked the school advisor recently.

“Nothing,” is what I felt like saying, instead responding in a desultory fashion with whatever the moment required.

What would I like to do?

I’d like Akiva to live at home with us, until he’s an old man, and we’re even older.

I’m down with keeping the helicopter blades permanently turning over him, Ira and I (with the help of Akiva’s caregiver, Indu), continuing to be in charge of fussing over him, making sure he’s happy and well-turned out. You know, well-fed, well-slept and well-watered, clean-shaven, glasses cleaned, blackheads removed (my job), fingernails trimmed (Ira’s job).

In short, loved and respected. Honored and yes, protected.

We don’t see anyone truly applying for the job.

Do you even like your job?

by: Yoni Arya, Assistant Director of Programming

img_5049Camp Shutaf, part of Shutaf Inclusion Programs, offers 3 weeks of camp for 130 campers, teens and young adult participants from the greater Jerusalem area. More than 50% of Shutaf families pay significantly reduced tuition for the program which includes busing to and from camp. Shutaf believes that every family should have access to quality summer programs regardless of their financial situation, and without the family having to jump through hoops in order to  prove that they need financial aid for camp.

I have had the absolute pleasure of working for Shutaf for the last three years, now going on four, and everyday I find something new that I love about job.

The best part of my job at Shutaf is our focus on  answering difficult needs, especially during  summertime, Which can be the most difficult time of the year for children with special needs and their families. Choices for activities are limited, and most of them end up putting families into debt.

I am so proud that Shutaf is a reliable, professional and affordable answer for so many children and  families.

Let me tell you more with a story from a pre-camp home visit. I knocked on the door, Emotionally  prepared (or so I thought) for meeting a mom and her two boys. A ten year old boy, “Moshe”, answered. “Moshe” is super polite, and very sweet – you can tell he is very excited to see me. I sit down with his mother ‘Sara’, and his brother ‘David’, who is thirteen and a Half (a very important point to David), and their older sister who is an IDF soldier.

‘Sara’ begins by telling me that she will only be sending ‘David’ to camp as she is not familiar with Shutaf programs, and only feels comfortable sending her older son. From the way she is speaking, and by informally  assessing  their extremely modest home, I can tell that there is a lot more going on here then she is comfortable sharing with me.

I tell her about camp and the  different activities we offer, and watch as both  boys get excited. We discuss tuition, and I can also see the look on Sara’s face as she wonders how she is going to pay for two children to go to camp for two weeks. Next,my favorite part of the home visit, getting to know the kids. I find out that David  loves to sing and apparently is very good at it. He also loves soccer, carpentry and swimming. “Moshe” is an energetic boy who also loves sports, swimming and playing with friends. The family, thinking I wouldn’t take a problem child, told me that the children don’t really have behavioral issues.  This seemed a little odd to me and the sister had made a couple comments to the contrary. I filled in the children’s information and told Sara to be in touch with our Director, Marci Tirschwell to discuss price (which she brought up numerous times during this home visit).

I wanted a little more information on these children as I felt i didn’t get to see the full picture. After getting permission from the mother I got in contact with the school social worker who handed me over to David’s teacher.  My expectation of this call was that the teacher would tell me that the boys have some behavioral issues but it is a manageable situation. Boy was I wrong. The teacher proceeded to tell me that not only do the boys have some behavioural issues but the financial situation was worst than I thought. She told me that Sara is a very caring mother and tries her hardest but can only send a very plain sandwich for lunch and the school provides clothing for the children.  Sara can’t even pay the 3$ that goes towards the classroom fund. ON top of all this she had to have surgery on her leg so she is not able to work.

We decided, as is our policy, to contact the city social worker and double check the financial situation and see if the social services department would help this family pay for camp. I tried to contact the social worker several times but only once got a hold of a different social worker that told me she would ask  the families social worker to contact me. She hasn’t yet. Meanwhile our counselors get in contact with our families the week before camp in order to update them on relevant information for camp. I was told by one of the counselors that they called the “Cohen” family and were told that the children are not signed up for camp.

Finding this very odd I phoned Sara. Sara told me the children weren’t interested in camp anymore. To try and feel out what the issue was I asked if they would like to come to camp for a week. As Sara is discussing this with David I hear one of the most heartbreaking sentences come out of David’s mouth. “Mom if it’s too much money I don’t want to go”. What is happening in our country when a thirteen year old is willing to pass an amazing summer experience because his Mom can’t afford it?

I immediately told her that I would call her back in a few minutes. I called up Marci and explained the situation. Her immediate response “make it happen”. I am extremely proud to work in an organization that gave me the opportunity to allow this family to come to camp no questions asked. These two children are coming to camp. The mother payed the lowest tuition that I believe we ever offered and this family deserves that. Some of my fondest memories are of camp I don’t think any child should be deprived of that.

The Moments That Shape Us

There are moments that shape us as individuals and experiences that change our outlook on life. We’re not always aware of these changes in the moment, but as we reflect on the journey we have traveled, we can plan our path for the future.

Pat Deegan delivered a paper on the topic of “healing;” “…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.” I’m assuming Pat has never heard of Shutaf but she describes my Shutaf vision perfectly…

Chanukah Party, 2014It’s my first day of camp, there’s an enormous circle of campers and counselors that forms. They break out in song and dance, those participating are absolutely bursting with joy. There are a few individuals uninterested in participating. I try coaxing them into joining in, without any luck… At our after-camp-staff meeting we discuss what we as counselors should expect from the campers during “ma’agal” (circle time.)

With an adjusted outlook, I arrive on the second day of camp. As the circle of counselors and campers forms, I approach one of the few campers that isn’t interested in joining the larger group. I ask the camper if they would like to be a spectator to this “show”, we talk about being spectators at the theater, and choose to clap along, from the sidelines.

Participation is solely based on definition.
“…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.”

I’m on the bus with some of our teens from the teen leadership program. We talk about what we’ll need to do once we arrive at our destination, we start talking about recent bus line changes, and a well intending woman pipes up. She looks at me directly and wishes me a “kol hakavod,” (good job,) for spending time with them. “Them?”, I asked. I kindly explained that these are my friends, and we were just talking about the bus line changes, and inquire if she had heard. She hadn’t, so the “chevre”, my “chevre” filled her in.

“…let the mainstream become a wide stream that has room for all of us and leaves no one stranded on the fringes.”

It’s these moments and these experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. Shutaf has found a permanent home in my heart.

This post was written by Rina Shmuel. She has been on staff at Shutaf for three years, is studying to be an Ocupational Therapist, and recently became a presenter of the Shutaf “Inclusion Accelerators.”

 

A Day to Explore

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637When I got to Camp Shutaf, I was told I had the option of joining a group of young campers or going on a scavenger hunt with the teen camper. I was a little hesitant to leave the camp location but thought a day out exploring would be fun. I’m very glad I made the decision I did, as I got the opportunity to see various sections of the municipality and learn about the history of the area. I got to see the Old City, and in particular the Armenian Quarter which I’ve never seen –  I was really excited and impressed. Thankfully, I was put in a group where the counselors spoke very good English. One of them even gave me a little history lesson about the Armenian quarter which I really enjoyed. Learning about the rich history of Jerusalem and the Old City would’ve been enough but I also got to relax in the shade while eating lunch and a popsicle.

Today was a very different day to my previous experiences at Camp Shutaf but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I wasn’t running around as much and wasn’t able to communicate as much with crazy actions during activities but I was still so pleased with how the day turned out. Now I don’t know what to do. Do I stay with little campers or do I mature up and go with the teens?

My First Day with a Group!

Our summer intern, Stephanie Reynolds, has been chronicling her daily experiences at Camp Shutaf. A recent college grad from Toronto, Stephanie has been having a blast experiencing camp and inclusion the Shutaf way. Enjoy!

IMG_20150731_182637Today was a very fun and different kind of day because it was my first whole day with the same group. The ages of the kids are around 8-9 years of age and were full of so much energy. It felt nice to finally have a specific group to be with because it allowed me to bond more with those kids and the counselors. I also got the opportunity to experience a broad range of activities with the same group which made it possible to see the different sides of the kids.

There a few extra special moments today one of which was when one of the kids leaned on me and held my hand while we were in a session with animals. I always heard that children have the best intuition and judgement of character and for a child who doesn’t even know me to trust me like that was very heartwarming. Throughout the day kids were asking me for help and coming up to me which was also a great feeling.  Another fun activity with the kids was when we got to play outside with bubbles. We were playing together and I got to take some awesome pictures. Seeing the smiles on the children was very satisfying. To have children respect me but also enjoy my company without us even really speaking to each other is simply another heartwarming moment.

Campers and counselors alike were engaging in conversation with me and I think it was then that I started feeling really good about the day. Getting to know a few of the counselors was also really great because it allowed me the opportunity to bond with people around my age and I also got to learn a little about life in Israel and at Shutaf. Making new friends is sometimes difficult for me but being with this group at Shutaf was pretty fantastic. Once again there was the obvious language barrier but when you are around certain individuals for a certain amount of time you start to build a great relationship!

First Day Impressions

IMG_20150731_182637Today is my first day of camp. I have the same feelings I did when I was a little kid going off to camp at the beginning of the summer. It’s only been about twenty minutes since I have been here, and I already feel overwhelmed. Not the run-for-the-hills kind of overwhelmed but the kind where you are very excited and nervous for what’s to come. One of the groups I spent time with was with was singing “Hakuna Matata,” and even though they were singing in Hebrew I found myself singing along (in my head in English). For me, being around and hearing something foreign and yet so familiar, like that well-known song, was very comforting. Watching all the kids energetically bounce around reminds me of when I went to camp. That made me so happy because once again I felt as though I could relate even though I could not understand anything that was being said.

What was even more comforting was just how friendly everyone was. Almost half of the staff and campers speak some level of English but even those that couldn’t, still made an effort to come over and make me feel welcomed. I am a very shy person when it comes to meeting people, as well as being in large groups but the friendly atmosphere helped me get through it.

The best part of my day was being in one these blow up plastic balls called “Zorbs”. At first it was just me and the other interns but after a few minutes all these campers came rushing in. They just started pushing me around, and then the staff joined in and it was really fun interacting with everyone in such a friendly manner.

Overall I had a really good day. I was internally freaking out most of the day trying to find my place and see where I fit in within the camp. I think after a few days I will start to feel more comfortable, and really get to enjoy Camp Shutaf for what it is – a really fun and inclusive environment. Within one day, I already feel like a changed person. and I can’t wait to see what the rest of these three weeks will hold!

Stephanie Reynolds is currently a summer intern at Shutaf. A Toronto native, she is in Israel on the ‘Real Life Israel,’ summer program.

“That Word”

Yoni and Gabi

Yoni and Gabi

I recently attended a birthday party for a friend. There were sixteen people at the party — I knew four of them — one’s a very close friend of mine. We were all sitting down to eat when somebody used the word retard.

Of course, I’d heard it, but seeing as the guests were mostly strangers to me, I decided to just move on, and let it go. I convinced myself that this person — this girl-who-used-the-word — didn’t know that she was misusing “that word,” that is, using it in a negative way. My close friend, knowing how I feel about people using “that word” (and I truly believe my friend didn’t mean any harm by it, and did not expect the girl-who-used-the-word to react as she did), jokingly said,

“Yoni, did you hear that?”

I tried to laugh it off instead of starting a debate on why we should or shouldn’t say “that word.”

Which did not happen.

Instead, the girl-who-used-the-word, turned around and asked me why “that word” bothered me?

In an attempt to avoid a major disagreement, I kindly explained that the word “retard” bothers me, and would she use another word. Like many people my age, (I’m 23), she thought that it would be amusing to keep using “that word” to get a rise out of me. I continued to explain that I personally don’t like getting into this kind of conversation with random people that I don’t know, let alone at a friend’s birthday party. Just as in previous situations I have been in, where I’ve heard people justifying the use of the word “retard,” the girl-who-used-the-word began sharing her thoughts;

“But I don’t mean anything bad by it,”

“It’s just a word,”

“It bothers you because you work in that field,”

The last one is what really hit home for me, and I was ready to burst but kept my cool. I wanted to say, “No, it bothers me because I have a sister who’s retarded,” just to see what her reaction would be, and what would be the next excuse she would have for using “that word.” Instead, I resisted, and (slightly more aggressively than before) explained that I have my own personal reasons for my reaction when people use “that word,” and could she please respect my decisions.

At this point, I realized I wasn’t going to change this girl-who-used-the-word’s mind, and that in the process had put myself into an agitated mood.

When I find myself in a situation like this, I like to use a technique that I practice when working with kids. The main point of the technique is to bring the conversation back to something to which both parties can relate — individually and together. I asked the girl-who-used-the-word to respect me as a person, and just use a different word. Just like when you ask someone on the bus not to put their feet on the seat. They might not think it’s a big deal, or see why it would bother someone, but usually out of respect for the other person they’ll take their feet down. People in any setting should be able to have safe conversations with each other — to learn and discuss topics that spur different opinions, and in this case, not put the other party guests in an uncomfortable situation.

I ended up leaving that party feeling very irritated. It wasn’t just because “that word” was used, but that I was put into a compromising position — either abandon my principles or come off as an opinionated person who went off on a rant, lecturing someone at a birthday party.

When I mention “that word,” I am not just talking about the word “retard,” or “retarded.” It’s about so much more than that.

Many of us, myself included (my mother can attest to that), take very little time to consider how our words can hurt someone — with or without our knowledge. Whether it be racially, anti-Semitic, sexist or just a mean word, we should all just take a second, and before we open our mouths, try to respect the people around us.  Like my mother always says, “think before you speak!”

Yoni is the Teen Leadership Coordinator for Shutaf.