I first met Cheryln when she was 13 at my cousin's Bar Mitzvah. She was an out going, bubbly, articulate young lady with a sparkle in her eye. I last saw Cheryln at her funeral. Overwhelmed by being bullied, rejected and marginalized, she took her own life. She was just shy of 15.
We read in this week's Torah portion, M'tzora, about how we should relate to others who are outcasts. The Torah specifically refers to those with leprosy but in many ways the lessons can be applied to all members of our community who are cast out for being different. Our sages have inferred that Miriam, Moses's sister, was purposely afflicted with leprosy as punishment for gossiping about her sister inlaw. As Jews, we place a high value in words and how we use them. We are taught that Lashon Hara, translated as "evil tongue", is a term used to describe derogatory speech or the use of true speech for a wrongful purpose. For both Miriam and Cheryln, expression of Lashon Hara had significant impact on their lives and the lives of others.
While we no longer need to deal with leprosy, the unfortunate reality is that outcasts still remain. People suffering under the stigma associated with mental illness, addiction, disability or poverty are often seen or view themselves as "outcasts." However, we are instructed in this week's Torah portion to find ways to reach those who are cast out, care for what afflicts them and help them reclaim their rightful place in our community.
With your support, the Federation through its partner agencies is fulfilling this obligation. Individuals struggling with mental health issues and teens who are being bullied are receiving quality care at Jewish Family Services. Special needs students are now able to actively participate in Hebrew schools with the support of specially trained coaches. Seniors are protected from isolation by programs at the JCC, Hebrew Health Care and Jewish Family Services. Adults with disabilities are able to live independently and work competitively through the support from the Jewish Association for Community Living.
As we approach Passover with themes of freedom and inclusion, we are reminded of our sacred duty to one another. We need to be more thoughtful in our speech, be conscious of the ease at which we can all revert to Lashon Hara and commit to be more supportive, encouraging, accepting and positive in how we communicate.
At our Seders next week we will invite all those who are hungry to join us. We open our homes and hearts to strangers in need. We take great pride in our traditions that reinforce our commitment to freedom, inclusivity and justice.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful, peaceful and joyous Passover.
President & CEO