Just Be a Friend

Although by nature I am a private person, I share highlights of Jacob's life on social media for various reasons. I want people to realize how easy certain obstacles are for him to overcome, or how difficult seemingly simple tasks can be for him to accomplish. I want him to be able to look back at how fearless and amazing he is, and most importantly, I want people to see how easy it is for them to deeply impact others.

We all know Facebook posts are not reflective of reality. While it may look like Jacob’s life is one big party, the truth is that the majority of his time he is bored and lonely.

Our family has been blessed, through Jacob, to know those who see the world as it should be. People who realize we are all different---some a little more so, but we all want to belong.

Being a friend is not something you do to check off chesed hours. Those who regularly FaceTime with Jacob from the US and Israel, or who stop in for a surprise visit, are just being friends. Those who spend a Shabbat here or go out for dinner with Jacob are just being friends. Those who are involved in all aspects of the inclusive activities available to Jacob are just being friends. Those who make sure he is front and center at their school activities, sports games and even weddings, are just being friends.

Unless you have a family member who lives on the fringes of typical, it is difficult to understand what life is like for someone like Jacob, let alone try to change it for the better. Perhaps imagine that you never received a single text, or that all your social media followers disappeared. How depressing would that be?

It’s easy to hit the "like" button on a feel-good post about someone with a disability.  But it’s also easier than you might think to truly make a difference in the world.  Smile at someone who you view as different. Encourage your friends and children to be open to relationships of all kinds. Invite someone new to hang out with your same old group. These small gestures can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.

I hear all the time that people gain as much as they give from being Jacob’s friend. I won't presume to speak from that perspective. But as I watch my "different" child struggle to manage the cards life has dealt him, I do feel I can say this:

The greetings in public places, the phone calls, the visits, the photos, the activities... these are all things that sound pretty simple, but their impact is huge. Don't leave anyone behind because they don't look, act or sound like you. Just be a friend.

Debby Mann Adler lives in Teaneck, NJ, with her husband, four boys, and Jacob’s dog Knickie, who was a birthday present for Jacob from his amazing friends.  Jacob is a student at SINAI’s Shalem High School at Heichal HaTorah, and the star of “Jacob’s Footprints,” a short documentary about him and the role that inclusion and friendship plays in his life.  Watch it at www.sinaischools.org/jacobsfootprints.