Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim, which introduces laws predominantly concerning human interaction and compassion, is a most fitting venue for Shabbat Shalem, the Shabbat dedicated to learning about those in our community who live with disabilities. On Friday evening, February 5, and Saturday, February 6, three shuls in West Orange will join forces in marking the launch of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). On Friday evening, February 5, Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz of Chabad of West Orange will host a Leil Limmud focusing on the challenges of living with disabilities. Featured speaker will be Avi Golden, Teaneck resident, who has lived with aphasia suffered after emergency heart surgery in 2007. Simultaneously, there will be eight community lectures taking place at private homes focusing upon the topic of inclusion.
On Shabbat day, Golden will address the community again at Congregation Ohr Torah where Rabbi Marc Spivak will have addressed the congregation on the topic of disabilities during his morning drasha. Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler and Congregation AABJ&D will focus their Shabbat on the topic and will host Golden for seuda shlishit.
Avi Golden is a remarkable individual and an inspiring spokesman for raising awareness about living with disabilities. Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, Golden’s goal was to pursue a career in medicine. As part of his college studies, he spent two years in Israel during which he became certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT). This certification opened up a whole new world for Golden which involved him in working as a critical care paramedic, rescue technician and in the allied roles of firefighter, hazmat operations and weapons of mass destruction technician. He also served as a paramedic with Magen David Adom.
In June of 2007 his life was interrupted tragically by a post-heart-surgery stroke which left him with right-sided paralysis and profound aphasia. Golden endured extensive inpatient and outpatient therapy, both traditional and nontraditional, including tai chi, computer games and at one point even had an innovative Neuromove device attached to his right side.
Presently, Golden still has balance problems and weakness on the right side of his body.
However, his greatest frustration comes from his Expressive Aphasia. Before his stroke, Golden was fluent in both Hebrew and English, as his mother is a native of Jerusalem. “I still understand Hebrew, but I can’t read, write or speak it now.” As for English language capabilities, “I understand everything but I can’t get the words out.”
But Avi Golden refuses to let aphasia get in his way. He still works as a paramedic and most importantly has embarked upon a new mission of “aphasia advocacy,” educating others about aphasia and how it impacts a stroke-survivor’s day-to-day life, which is precisely what he will be doing for the West Orange community on Shabbat Shalem.
By Pearl Markovitz