The word “prom” in religious circles is quite foreign. Secular newspapers frequently feature pictures of young couples in their prom regalia as they celebrate and dance the night away. Those of us who attended secular high schools faced the disappointment of not being able to attend their high school proms, which usually took place on Friday evenings. Never admitting that they might in any way be imitating a non-Jewish practice, there are Jewish high schools that do plan programming for their students to while away the night after graduation in a more acceptable fashion.
Dancing is not an activity in which most of us get to partake. Other than the circular hora-style dancing that takes place at weddings, most of us never experience anything else. In observing some of the dancing, one notices people who are as heavy on their feet as elephants, and others who look as though they could easily try out for the Bolshoi Ballet.
In our marriage, we realized one day early on that we both enjoyed dancing with each other as a couple. We valued the moments we were alone and could either sing our favorite songs and dance to them, or listen to music on the radio and dance as well. It definitely was an activity that brought us closer together in the privacy of our home. One of our favorite songs for dancing is the Anniversary Waltz, and we would often sway back and forth together to the rhythm of the music. This, at times, helped us overcome difficult patches when we needed to remind each other of how lucky we were.
Sitting at a Shabbat dinner table on Friday evening in Montreal, several couples at the table laughed and reminisced how acceptable it used to be to take Arthur Murray dance lessons. It was considered a relaxing form of entertainment. Obviously, that is no longer the case in the world we live in today.
We are excited to announce that we attended our first prom last Thursday. It was an event that we will never forget. We wish that everyone who reads this column would have had the opportunity to attend it with us. As it was the final day of the year at the CARE (Centre D’Activités Récréatives et Éducatives) program that our daughter Naama attends, a prom was arranged for the final activity before the program reconvenes in September. Keeping in mind that everyone in this group of about 20 is extraordinarily physically handicapped, all in wheelchairs but with high levels of comprehension, the staff worked for weeks to make this event particularly special. All the staff members dressed as though they were going to a real prom. Each participant in the program had a “date” who was a staff member, and each female member of the group wore a paper corsage. They prearranged what they would wear so that they could coordinate with their date. The program began with each “couple” taking pictures in front of a large sign that said CARE Center Prom 2017. After all the pictures were taken, the lights were dimmed and the music began. Staff members whirled wheelchairs around the room. Mordechai and Nina began to dance as well. This was our big opportunity to attend our first prom. We felt honored to have waited for this occasion to dance in public. Feelings of gratitude and appreciation are not strong enough to express our emotions at this sight.
We would doubt that any staff member at the CARE Center is over 30. Many of them have worked there for years. Many of them have several rings adorning various parts of their faces. Tattoos are easily spotted on some as well. When I asked Naama’s date, Maisie, what the significance of her tattoo was, she told me she did it years ago and no longer likes it and will soon replace it with something else that will just be drawn over it. We talked about how many of these people we would never have considered befriending prior to meeting them at CARE. How wrong we are. They love and respect our daughter as though she is one of their best friends.
There is a participant in the program (Angela) who is so handicapped that it is difficult to look at her. Her face always faces upward with her mouth open. Her hands flail in the air and she is not able to speak. She understands everything and participates in discussions by moving her eyes in every direction, and the staff is able to decode by numbers what she is spelling out with her eyes. We watched as one of the staff went over to tell her how much she loved her shade of lipstick. Angela’s gentle smile provoked tears in our eyes as you could see how excited she was to be recognized as something beautiful. It was difficult for us to leave our first prom.
To know that there are people in this world who are so caring, loving and kind to individuals who in many cases can only reciprocate by smiling or laughing is beyond believable. As Nina said to the group prior to the prom beginning, “The Hebrew word ‘tzadik’ applies to each and every one who works with this special group.” It is vital to keep in mind that judging a person by his or her appearance can be a huge mistake. We hope that reading this will be used as a reminder the next time any of us are tempted to do so.
By Rabbi Mordechai and Nina Glick