Shabbat shalom. My name is Stacey Ashlund, and I have 2 children that grew up here at Beth Am - Amelia is 16 and Brendan is 19. My son is now a sophomore at Lewis and Clark college in Portland, OR. When he was born, and soon after, we learned he was profoundly deaf and would lose his vision also, due to a rare genetic disorder called Usher Syndrome. Some of you may have heard Rebecca Alexander speak here a few months ago about her experience losing her vision and hearing. It is a devastating diagnoses for the individual as well as the family. After his bris at 18 days old, one of the first conversations we had about raising our son Jewish was that he would become a Bar Mitzvah - no matter what - despite his prognosis of being deaf and blind - we were determined to find a way. My primary reason for this was simple - inclusion - in other words, a community where he’d be welcome and belong, no matter what.
Brendan started Sunday program here at age 6, and progressed all the way through his Bar Mitzvah, and thrived in Jewish youth group experiences all through high school. There were many times in Sunday program or Hebrew class when Brendan struggled - where he didn’t hear or understand something, or didn’t know how to respond or behave. The teachers and clergy and staff always were open and willing to work with me, and together we’d find a way to solve problems, or modify the situation to suit my son’s needs. Was it perfect? No. Was my son relatively “easy”? Yes. But I am forever thankful for the kindness and patience and inclusivity of Beth Am for working w/ me and my son to make his experience so positive.
I have no doubt that those experiences helped him not only be academically successful enough to go to college, but that they also helped him personally - helped him to feel happy, welcome, valuable, and loved. He is now active in Hillel at his college and even traveled to Israel for his first time last year with Birthright. His bravery amazes me!
Now that my son is off to college, and my daughter is nearing the end of high school - I finally have some free time to myself on my hands. Recently I’ve been looking for a book group - but in typical Silicon Valley fashion, all the book groups I’ve found through friends so far are “closed” - meaning that they have enough members, and/or that they’re a tight-knit group of moms that have been together since their children were babies. I had no time for book groups when I was taking my son to up to 11 therapies a week and juggling my daughter.
Not only has Beth Am been a loving, welcoming and inclusive place for my son, it has also been a community for me as well and I’ve RSVP’d to join the Beth Am Women’s book group next month. The INCLUSION committee here feels like home to me - it is a time and place where I also feel welcome and valued. I’m honored and fulfilled to be a part of this community, and look forward to making more progress on inclusion of people of all abilities in our Beth Am Community.