A Weekend Of Reflection
February is Jewish Disabilities and Inclusion Awareness Month. We have shared and posted widely about how we approach inclusion as a community center and across our Jewish community. As the month was winding down, a group of 11 JCC Chicago team members were heading to the JCC Association Professional Conference. The day before was the Illinois High School Association Swimming and Diving State Meet. What do these things possibly have to do with one another?
My 2nd child is a senior and has been diving since the age of nine–some call that a career, and the last dive of that career would come on Saturday at the State Finals. When I walked into the venue, my eyes welled when I saw him and his diving pal for life surrounded by their swimming teammates. The swimmers on the State team hadn’t qualified for the finals, yet there they all were—decked out in their matching jackets, ready to cheer for their divers. (For those less familiar, the diving event takes place in the middle of the swim meet and is often referred to by swim folks as the “dive break.”)
We made our way through the crowd and settled in to wait for his event. After a few swim heats, they announced the 200 Free Relay for swimmers with disabilities. Officials covered a block with a blanket so a swimmer who uses a wheelchair wouldn’t scrape his knees on the start and timers on both ends of the lane signaled swimmers with visual impairment by tapping them on the shoulder with an apparatus as they approached the turns. The crowd went wild for every swimmer and then those tears fell.
The year prior, our high school won the State title for the most points scored by participants with and without disabilities. I now know what that means and those cheers are some I’ll never forget. The next morning, I headed to Florida with a stop in Miami before meeting my team in Orlando. The detour was to meet the grandfather of a Camp Chi camper whose grandson is celebrating his bar mitzvah at camp this summer. When the call went out to share the day, we raised our hands; my youngest would like to do the same and was also feeling a bit nervous. Neither boy would “do it all” but they would each take on a part of the morning that felt right for them. And their camp friends would all be there to support and cheer them on.
When I got to Orlando, I met up with the other ten staff who attended the conference. Our group represented nearly every department and a wide range of titles and functions. Together, we represented JCC Chicago proudly, collaborating about which sessions to attend and sharing what we learned. We had the chance to enjoy dinner as a team and celebrate a bit of warm weather during a true Chicago winter.
48 hours–these 48 hours left me reflecting on the beauty of community; community that comes together in all kinds of spaces and places. Community that is ever-ready, present and supportive. Community that you never doubt will not only have your back but cheer so you can hear them.
Turns out my kid failed the last dive of his career. He was in 8th place and those two seconds in the air dropped him to 11th. He got the loudest cheers in the event, smiled as he emerged from the pool, and was proud to claim his State medal. As his Athletic Director tweeted that afternoon about the turn of events, “How you treat those less fortunate, how you handle adversity, and how you care for your friends and family—that’s what defines you.”
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