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A Rite of Passage for a Boy With ADHD

A Rite of Passage for a Boy With ADHD

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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.
The Ruderman-Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) is dedicated to building on the philosophy and mission of Chabad-Lubavitch by providing Chabad communities around the globe the education and resources they need to advance inclusion of people with disabilities. RCII engages Chabad’s network of human and educational resources to create a Culture of Inclusion so that all Jews feel welcomed, supported and valued throughout their entire lifecycle.
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