Hi Everyone. I hope you are all enjoying today's program and have had the opportunity to visit the different stations. It always warms my heart to come to a Friendship Circle program and see all of the participants and how they've grown, both physically and emotionally. Personally, I love seeing RJC growing more independent, happily working as the greeter with her mentors. Over this year I have seen her more comfortable in this role and actually smiling and having fun seeing everyone come in. Just try to sneak by – she'll nab you in a minute to be sure you have your nametag!

I'd like to share a little bit of our story as to why FC is important to our family.

As far as I know, Rachael does not know what being “Jewish” means. This is too abstract of a concept for her. So if she doesn't understand the concept of being Jewish, why does it matter to me that she is here and participating in FC? Until recently I would answer “I have no idea.” But something happened recently that has made me rethink this answer.

Rachel has her sleep routine at night and her wake up routine in the morning. At night, she showers, plays on her iPad, I brush her teeth, she gets a drink from the kitchen and we go to her room. Together we say the first line of the Shema prayer in Hebrew. Then we have a goodnight script we say every single night. Monday through Friday, in the morning, she will come in to bed with me once my husband is awake and moving. She will either hold my arm like it's a stuffed animal, take hold of my hand, or if I'm on my side facing away from her she will pat my back.

One day she had a very busy day and between her sleeping pill and the outdoor activity she must have been very tired. After she had her drink she went to her room but didn't wait for me. I went in just a few minutes later and she was asleep. The next morning, she came into bed with me, took my hand and said, "Say Shema with mommy?" We said Shema together, she was satisfied, and fell back to sleep. The simple request to say a prayer with mom - whether or not she knows it's a prayer is not the point - it's that she feels something when she says it. And she wants to say it with mom. And when she doesn't, she misses it.

So this started me thinking that maybe she does have an innate feeling of her Jewishness. The act of saying the Shema has some meaning to her or she would not feel the need to say it after missing it. Maybe it's a routine, but just maybe there is some spiritual comfort in it for her. She likes to watch “Barney” in Hebrew. She enjoys receiving an aliyah at our synagogue and lighting the Chanukah candles. She loves Friendship Circle events. Maybe these are her ways of expressing and living her own Jewishness.

I am sure that we all will have different feelings about this for our own children, but here's my take on it for my girl. I do not have the right to decide if she does or does not have an understanding of her Jewishness. If she does, it is probably not in the same way that I understand mine, but do any of us understand or experience this in the same way? There is something about participating in the holidays and various Jewish rituals that makes her happy. She enjoys Friendship Circle immensely. At the beginning of the year when the schedule of

events comes out she puts it right on our refridgerator. She loves being with the teen mentors when she comes here and I truly believe she understands the feeling of being accepted and appreciated for who she is. And isn't that pretty much the foundation of the Torah? Loving your neighbor as yourself and treating people the way you want to be treated? Really, what more could I want for her? She has her own understanding of being Jewish that I will never know because she cannot express it. But I believe with my heart and soul that she knows there is something special about the Shema, something special about going to synagogue, and something very special about Friendship Circle.

So to that end I am grateful to see you all here and being part of her Jewish experience. Shayna and Rabbi Shaya, all of the high school students, as well as the adults who help out at each program, thank you for giving Rachael and her peers the opportunity to feel Jewish – each in their own way.

~Donna Cohen
You Complete the Picture, 5775/2015