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A Rite of Passage for a Boy With ADHD

A Rite of Passage for a Boy With ADHD


As an advocate and a mom of a child with ADHD, I’ve learned to pick my battles. For me, my son becoming a bar mitzvah wasn’t an option; it was a must. But I wondered how he would approach these studies and what challenges might arise. Would he have the focus and patience required for tackling Torah?

The night we met with the cantor, my almost-13-year-old son announced from the back ofHe embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech the car: “I’m a scientist, and also I’m an atheist.” Great, I thought. This was a great time to tell us as we turned left into the synagogue parking lot. But my husband and I took it in stride.

“That’s fine,” I said. “You can discuss it with the cantor.”

And he did. The cantor went over the long history of great Jewish scientists and thinkers. My son was impressed. He was on board to begin his studies.

Over the next year, my son studied Torah. He got to know the cantor who would be officiating at his bar mitzvah. In the week of the bar mitzvah, to my surprise, he agreed to come to the 7 a.m. minyan and lay tefillin. He stood among the multi-aged congregation, wrapped in tefillin, and took his place among them as a man. Afterwards, the old and the young shook hands. Tears formed in my eyes.

My son’s bar mitzvah was a beautiful moment in our lives. He embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech on the meaning of the week’s Torah portion. He talked about respect for your elders, your neighbor and yourself. I reflected on the many challenges we’d been through as a family as he had grown into himself. After Shabbat, the congregation gathered on the bimah to celebrate Havdalah. We swayed together, watching the glowing light of the candle.

For my son to become a bar mitzvah was important to me as a mother and a Jew. I wanted him to fulfill this Jewish rite of passage. And it truly was a “coming of age” as, before my eyes, I saw my son pass into manhood. His command of the material was wonderful, but his embrace of the meaning of the moment truly touched me. As he stood in front of the congregation, confident and compelling in his words, I understood why bar mitzvah was so important. He became a link in an unbreakable chain.

As an advocate, I appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process. It wasn’t about showing off your Hebrew fluency. Or sharing your knowledge. Or even showcasing your wisdom. It was about something larger—about taking your place within a community that goes back 3,500 years. As a mother, I hadI appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process struggled mightily over the years with not feeling accepted. A hyperactive, impulsive child is rarely at the top of the birthday party Evite list. Often, teachers don’t understand the challenges of ADHD, even well-meaning ones, even in a Jewish school setting. I had wounds that festered from preschool about unfair judgments and feeling left out, and my son being misunderstood. His bar mitzvah was not just a rite of passage for him, but a healing process for me.

Whatever my son’s challenges might be, the community wanted him to succeed; they were rooting for our family. I felt the love and support from the rabbi, the cantor and every person sitting in the sanctuary. We had been part of this community for a very long time. The sense of inclusion, acceptance and inspiration I experienced healed some very old wounds, and made me think about how love and acceptance can do that. Now more than ever.

At my son’s bar mitzvah, I was inspired by my child’s embrace of the community into which he was born. And their embrace of him. There were many lessons shared that day, but that one will stay with me always.

Robin Finn is an author, essayist, and advocate for children with ADHD. She has master’s degrees in public health from Columbia University and in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica. Robin lives in Los Angeles with her husband and family.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous NY City March 18, 2017

Blame it on my ADD There's a song that says that. I remember when I was diagnosed many years ago. The hyperactivity was the thing because I could actually not sit still or concentrate my thoughts on one thing before something else called my attention. Everything interested me. What soothed me but annoyed my parents was my rocking and bumping (that's something similar but for another post). When a reporter discovered unattended crazy people in an asylum and filmed them for TV news, someone close to me pointed out that they rocked like me. But they rocked harder - violently and they were unable to communicate. It didn't look how I felt when I rocked as I brainstormed, fantasized or contemplated life, spiritual things and ideas. But the first time I saw Jews shokeling I recognized myself, the feeling, the peacefulness, the far away nearness. Nobody was ever interested enough to ask me what I thought about when rocking. I still rock and i don't try to control or stop it. Thank G-d. Reply

Jared Orem March 16, 2017

Wonderful As a teacher of adults with ADHD and Autism, and a parent of children with similar disorders, I loved the hope that this article shares, and the focus on the participation and inclusion of the faith community. May this kind of acceptance and support always be the way that believers help others with differences feel G_d's love and recognize their inherent value. Thank you! Reply

jim dallas March 14, 2017

great tale told, much missing for non-jew situation, a price to pay. i couldn't help but make certain comparisons, you talk of depth of identity and cultural value....a prize to be cherished, indeed! Reply

Anonymous Midwest March 14, 2017

ADHD Ima I have a 4 y/o with emerging ADHD and I've advocated for him for his education; after spending 3 years in a daycare/preschool when he was finally evaluated I felt like the worst mom ever and come to find out only 1 Jewish school will accept an IEP and as a single mom I can't afford it. I want nothing more than to have him in a Jewish school but it eludes us. I pray that G-d puts him in the right classes with exceptional teachers. I have the same worries about my son preparing for his bar mitzvah when he gets that age even though we still have 8 years until then! Reply

Anonymous March 14, 2017

My daughter had learning difficulties - except not in Hebrew School, where she did very well. And at her bat mitzvah, during the Torah procession, she stopped by my seat. Her eyes were shining and she whispered "thank you, Mommy." And I said " thank you, God." Reply

Yehuda Menachem Beachwood March 14, 2017

Mazel Tov!! What a beautiful ceremony for sure! It would have been an honor to participate; and of course at a certain level, all of us were there. I love hearing of times that one connects with Hashem and with his fellow Jew. It is precisely what Hashem intended with the two tablets on which the commandments were written. The first tablet being our relationship with Hashem; and the second tablet being our relationship with other Jews. Neither side greater or lesser than the other. May the elevation of your son's soul be revealed in the time to come! Reply