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March 28, 2003 - Image 99

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-28

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A Special Child's
Special Bat Mitzvah

Southern New Jersey
Jewish Community Voice


arga Hirsch cannot say
who grew more, she or
As educational
administrator for the Philadelphia
Jewish Federation's Department of
Jewish Education, Hirsch works with
many young people. But guiding
young Elisheva on the path to becom-
ing a bat mitzvah brought an unusual
student-teacher relationship, especially
satisfying to both.
"It was a challenge, but not labori-
ous. It was creative. It was rewarding.
It was ..." Hirsch stopped to think for
a moment. "It was filled with an
incredible synergy."
The pair first met in September 2001
at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in
Wynnewood, Pa. Sitting next to
Elisheva in shul week after week, Hirsch
felt for the girl because her cerebral
palsy "trapped her in her wheel chair."
Other children could get up and
leave during the sometimes lengthy
D'var Torah. Elisheva could not. Nor
could she speak or hold a book.
Hirsch was touched by Elisheva's vis-
ible commitment to her religion. To
minimize the girl's frustration and
maximize her pleasure in Judaism,
Hirsch first adapted board books for
Elisheva to look at during the D'var
Torah. Then she made a Hebrew/
English siddur (prayer book) for her to
use on Shabbat at home.

Bat Mitzvah

The bond between Hirsch and
Elisheva drew in the girl's younger sis-
ter and parents. So much had been
shared by the time Hirsch was asked to
prepare Elisheva for her bat mitzvah.
Some memories:
• Giving her cards with the words to
Ein kEloheinu printed out in large
type, Hirsch sat Elisheva on her lap so
she could follow the words with her

finger. "Elisheva's smile lit up the
entire sanctuary" her father said.
• When Elisheva and family visited
Hirsch's home during Chanukah,
Hirsch gave Elisheva a simple yet spe-
cial present — a dreidel with a spinner
on its stem bolted to a piece of wood in
a way that enabled the girl to spin it.
"I can help an individual by sensing
that person's entry point, by knowing
where to start," said Hirsch. She finds
each student's skills and tries to "keep
it comfortable."
Bat mitzvah day for Elisheva was
Monday, Dec. 30, 2002. The Torah
portion was VaEyra, the only Torah
reading that includes Elisheva's name.
The pair began formal weekly bat
mitzvah preparation in September.
Hirsch worked before and after
office hours, and many a Sunday,
making Elisheva's bat mitzvah siddur.
For Elisheva to "speak" to the congre-
gation, her prayers, her D'var Torah,
her every word would have to be pro-
grammed into her "talker," a computer
keyboard device that uses icons to rep-
resent words and gives her voice.
On bat mitzvah day, Elisheva made
her parents and her teachers proud.
"Two things in Parshat VaEyra are spe-
cial for me," Elisheva said in her D'var
Torah. One was that her name was in
the Torah reading. The other, "that
Moses feels worried because he cannot
talk well. Too bad he didn't even have
a talker like mine."
Elisheva's joy at her bat mitzvah, her
family's pride, the congregation's
delight in an extraordinary experience
would have been enough reward for
Hirsch. But about a month later, as a
post-bat-mitzvah gift, Elisheva's moth-
er entered her beloved teacher's name
into her "talker."
"I am deeply moved by the icon
sequence she chose: Name-know-
God'," said Hirsch. "I feel like some-
one who has been initiated into a
Native American tribe and given a
name that invokes a powerful aspect of
their character or experience."

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