I am a rabbi with a master of arts degree in special education. People in my community of Beitar Illit, Israel, tell me that I inspire them with my joie de vivre. I am very thankful for that, but it took a lot of hard work and determination. I was born with cerebral palsy.

This is my story.

I look back at my teenage years as the most awkward and embarrassing of my life. Because I have cerebral palsy, I have a lot of involuntary movement of my hands and neck. I also wear hearing aids because I am 80 percent deaf.

I vividly recall standing around awkwardly at parties, looking for someone to talk to.

In my teenage mind, there were only two categories of people: the “cool” ones and the “quiet” ones. I tried so hard to be cool that I ended up being quiet. I decided to approach those I also deemed “quiet” and make conversation with them. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

When it didn’t, it was even more embarrassing and awkward.

But when it succeeded . . . ahhh . . . those people became lifelong friends.

I know what it means to be included, and I know what it means to be excluded. I was always trying to figure out how I could be just like everybody else, when in fact I was not like anyone else.

Now, 40 years later, the definitions of “cool” and “quiet” are not the same as they were when I was 15.

I no longer see myself as a quiet person, because I know that I can also be loud and jovial. I know that people around me accept me. The term “cool” has also changed for me. It now means being myself—being “me” with complete confidence. This realization didn’t come overnight; it took 40 long years. Forty years of hard knocks, 40 years of ups and downs.

In 1976, when I began to study in the Chabad yeshivah in Morristown, N.J., I was already religious and chassidic. But I still had my old “tapes” running in my head. They stopped playing only when I became fully immersed in the chassidic emphasis on learning and character refinement. When I began to think and care about others in a soulful way, my own thinking was transformed. I no longer spent hours feeling self-pity, which led me to become more sensitive and caring.

There is a great custom in the yeshivah for the older students to take the younger ones under their wings. Together, they learn classic chassidic works and/or talk about the challenges of the day. Mentoring a younger student gave me the self-confidence and self-respect that I so badly needed, but didn’t know how to obtain. This is called inclusion!

The Rebbe taught that every neshamah comes down to this world for a specific divine mission. I finally realized that G‑d Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, created me the way I am for one reason and one reason only: because only I am uniquely qualified for the mission that He has entrusted me with.

Whatever that mission is.

I am now a teacher of chassidus, a husband, father and grandfather. I learn and teach in the Beitar Illit Kollel, and am fully active in the community.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.