The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is in the midst of our 100 Days of Impact. On Oct. 1, Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin spoke to 130 of our leading donors and provided an inspiring message about overcoming challenges and living generously. The people in attendance have committed $725,000 to Campaign 2015. Every gift increased by 10% or more, and every new gift to our campaign will be matched dollar for dollar.
Marlee Matlin was fantastic! She talked about her challenges growing up deaf. Many felt she could not do what “normal” kids could do. As one would expect … she persevered. She shared her personal joy about having a bat mitzvah (yes, she is Jewish) and learning and chanting her haftarah. She talked about becoming an actress and at the age of 21 becoming the youngest recipient of the Best Actress Oscar (“Children of a Lesser God”) and one of only four actresses to receive the honor for her film debut.
However, the excitement of winning quickly was soured by a film critic who said she basically won the “pity vote.” That critic also said a deaf actor had no future in Hollywood. Apparently, he was wrong as she continues to have success in film and TV, including her current groundbreaking television show, “Switched at Birth.”
Marlee talked about overcoming barriers. “Differently abled people deserve both respect and to be heard. They deserve every opportunity to do what everyone else does.”
This reminded me of a story from B’nai B’rith Camp about a special 9-year-old boy with Down syndrome. Gavin M. wanted to go to summer camp, but he was rejected by a summer program that could not accommodate his needs. His mother, Lynne, was used to fighting for him, but with money scarce and expenses high, it looked like Gavin would have to sit this summer out.
No way! Resources were made available so Gavin was able to attend camp, which not only accommodated him, but welcomed him with open arms.
“Far from treating my son like any sort of a burden, the BB Camp staff all behaved as if we were doing them a great honor by giving them the opportunity to share camp with my son,” says Lynne. “They assured me, as one voice, that people with differences have something unique to contribute to the com- munity. They were eager to see what Gavin would contribute and how they could help him do that.”
The staff and volunteers went out of their way to create an inclusive environment for Gavin. And to help the nonverbal boy communicate with others, a volunteer created handmade picture symbols to represent his camp experience, including Hebrew words. Long after camp was over, those symbols helped Gavin talk about his camp memories and his favorite summer activities. “It is far too common to look at children with special needs as a burden, not cost-effective and too much trouble, and then to provide services to the absolute minimum the law demands, and only when pressed,” says Gavin’s mother.
The Jewish Federation and BB Camp see Gavin as so much more than that. It takes faith to see a child with special needs as a gift. And Gavin is truly a gift.
Marlee concluded her remarks by stating, “Every one of us is different in some way, but for those of us who are more different, we have to put more effort into convincing the less different that we can do the same things they can, just differently.” Let’s give everyone the opportunity! This is the impact our Annual Campaign makes on individuals in our community with your philanthropic support. Help us make an even greater impact. Live generously! Make your gift today (jewishportland.org).
As we embark on a new year, let me express my appreciation to you all for being part of an active and dynamic Jewish community. Our Jewish community can indeed share a vision of Am Echad – One People. I am honored to help lead the Jewish Federation in its mission of caring for and nurturing Jews wherever they may live. Together, we make the difference.