“Ciao!” I call out cheerfully, a broad (exhausted) grin on my face.

Twenty-eight blank stares.

I try again.

Chava’le”—[I point to myself, theatrically]—“Ciao!” [I wave hello, exaggeratedly.]

Twenty-eight blank stares and three sets of raised eyebrows.

And then a few giggles.

I’m not trying to be funny.

I’m trying to introduce myself—on my first day—to the three-, four- and five-year-olds in the playground who will be my students this semester in this Spanish-speaking preschool.

Years of experience and oceans of love accompany my every directive, yet . . . I’m failingMy repertoire of Spanish words currently includes (indeed, is limited to) the following words: si (yes), mucho (a lot), loco (crazy), leche (milk), baño (bathroom), señor/señora (Mr./Mrs.), and the numbers one through ten.

See, I’ve come prepared with stories and crafts, games and projects, songs and jokes. Years of experience and oceans of love accompany my every directive, yet . . . I’m failing.

The kids have no idea what I’m talking about.

I hadn’t quite been informed before landing here that all the kids speak only Spanish.

I feel trapped.

How can I proceed with my lesson when they don’t recognize even one word of English or Hebrew?!

(Save for one kid who is proud to share her knowledge of the colors in Hebrew, and is calling out at random, “Tzahov! Yarok! Katom!!” (Yellow! Green! Orange!)

Because my drawing ability can only be described as, errr, a drawing disability, I resort to the images and posters I brought with me. They help slightly, but it’s not enough.

My Spanish-speaking aide doesn’t understand my instructions and completes the entire project for the kids, instead of having them do it themselves.

The kids are getting restless and fidgety, and the only disciplining I can come up with is endlessly repeating, “No. No. No.”

In addition to feeling trapped, I now feel I’m trapping these pure innocent children.

Now, are the children or I doing something wrong? Are any of us actually out to trap the other? Are we being un-understanding? Inconsiderate? Lazy? Mean?

Obviously not. We simply do not speak the same language.

They’re not dumb, nor am I. We each have loads to offer to the class; we each have something to offer that cannot be replaced by anyone else. Giving up on me, the kids chatter on excitedly with each other, love of life shining from their eyes. And I? I stand there helplessly. I’m longing to join in, to understand, to ask, to answer, to laugh, to give, to share, to connect. Unable to, the aforementioned tears start dripping down my face onto my neat stack of papers on the desk.

“I feel like Libby!!” I burst out frustratedly one day after school, angrily dropping my bags on the floor with all the pressure of a dammed river, released. “It’s just not fair! I feel so dumb! I can’t do a thing there! I’m telling you, I feel just like Libby!”

Libby’s thirteen-year-old cousin Miri is in the kitchen. “You are so mean!” she exclaims, horrified.

I am boarding at Miri’s house while I teach in this preschool, and I’ve met her cousin Libby—a delightful teenager with cerebral palsy (CP)—when she’s come for visits.

“Huh? Why am I mean?” I’m dumbfounded.

She’s red in the face, and when she finally stops sputtering, Miri glares at me. “You just called Libby dumb! And how dare you say Libby can’t do anything??!”

“What? I called Libby dumb?” I think back to what I said about her, and when comprehension finally dawns on my side of the room, I give a small chuckle.

“Hey, chill out,” I tell her, “I never said Libby can’t do anything, I said—”

“Uh-huh!! You said you can’t do anything and you feel dumb, just like Libby!”

“Noooo, lemme explain! Listen to me!”

She’s too hurt, on her cousin’s behalf.

It’s no secret what an individual graced with CP looks like to an outsider“You know I love Libby just as much as you do. As a matter of fact, I was specifically saying how much I feel for her.”

She perks up.

“You and I both know very well how awesome Libby is. She’s kind, she’s pretty—I just love her hairstyle—she’s interesting, she’s helpful, she’s an extremely hard-worker, and boy, is she funny! Nothing makes her smile bigger than a good prank. It’s great to be around her. We love when she comes to visit.”

Miri nods.

I continue, encouraged. “But Miri, you would agree with me that most people don’t understand Libby, right? And I’m not just talking literally, due to her dysarthric speech;1 I’m talking about her in general, as a person. Many people are scared off by her jerky movements, and lots of them assume that means she is unaware of her surroundings. Even more than that, for some odd reason, they conclude that her feelings are nonexistent.”

She nods again. It’s no secret what an individual graced with CP looks like to an outsider.

“So Miri, in a way, Libby is trapped. The beautiful, strong, creative Libby that we know is trapped in the body of an unstable, unclear and limited Libby, which is what strangers see.

“And that’s exactly what I was thinking of when I said I feel like Libby. Not that she’s dumb, G‑d forbid, but that she’s trapped. When I make my way to school each morning, my head bursting with fascinating stories, challenging lessons and clever puns, I feel on top of the world. But when I stand in front of my new class and realize that I cannot communicate what is inside, that I cannot share the plentiful treasures I have, I too feel trapped.”

Miri gets it. “So basically you’re saying that you feel like there are two of you. The klutzy and incapable Chava’le who everyone around you in school sees; and the bright accomplished Chava’le who knows tons of stuff and has loads of success in her portfolio but cannot be expressed here.”


We both smile; and now, I feel better.

I feel better that we three girls—Libby, Miri and I—are all just a bit more understanding of the lives of the trapped.

We’re facing Purim now. Hamantashen with all sorts of fillings, costumes ranging from sweet Queen Esthers to ferocious lions to silly clowns, listening intently to the Megillah reading and then blasting firecrackers at the sound of Haman’s name . . . all these say Purim.

And all these say “hidden.”

The dough hides the jelly, fabric and face paint hide the person ’neath, and the Megillah itself—the parchment upon which the entire miracle of Purim is recorded—hides the fact that there was a miracle.

Can we look around us and mentally peel away the masks from our trapped peers?You see, the entire miracle of Purim came about in a hidden way, in a way that made the victory of the Jews seem natural. This is the reason why, in the entire holy scroll, the name of G‑d is not mentioned even once! A discerning eye and a probing mind, however, will note and wonder at the improbability of Esther being chosen as queen, of Mordechai overhearing the plot to kill the King, of Achashverosh extending his scepter to Esther when she entered his chambers without permission, of Achashverosh not being able to sleep . . . Yes, G‑d saved us from a terrible fate without even showing His face. Well, without showing His miraculous face, that is. He donned a mask of Nature. Was G‑d there? Yes, He was there. Could we see Him? Only those who looked very, very closely. Only those who weren’t satisfied with the externalities and seeked to find the inner soul of the matter, found G‑d.

With Purim approaching, can we attempt to do the same? Can we look around us and mentally peel away the masks from our trapped peers? Can we ignore looks, language, background, career and clothing? Can we focus rather on the child, the teacher, the human being underneath? Can we direct our gaze and our hearts to the soul that is trapped?

As soon as you recognize a soul that is trapped, you have initiated its release.