I was born in 1981. The anthems of the 1960s, from “We Shall Overcome” to “The Times They are a-Changin'” would soon be replaced by “Material Girl” and “Manic Monday,” while Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was soon to be eviscerated by Ronald Reagan’s supply side economics and deregulation.
This materialistic cacophony would not touch me, however. Rather, I am told that as I lay on a warming table on that cold November Shabbat, 11 weeks premature and struggling for life, a powerful voice enveloped me in love and song all night. My father always said the one saving grace of that evening was that I had not yet been moved to the isolette where I would spend the next 3 months, meaning he could touch me, and sing.
I know that he sang songs of prayer and love, including, writing for me, as he and my mother did for each of their 5 children, an individualized loving musical adaptation of a traditional Jewish song (Mine came from the seder song “Baruch HaMakom”).
But I bet he also sang of the prophetic vision of a world redeemed and the overwhelming Jewish imperative to pursue justice. That’s a safe bet because these themes were so central to the soul of the man that I cannot help but be certain that he would have bequeathed them at my birth, as a living anthem against the rising self-preoccupation which would be typified by the meme, “greed is good”, by the end of the 80s.
As we encircled his deathbed three short, heart-rending weeks ago, his beloved children were the ones singing to him of peace, love, and of God’s perfected world, which he could envision so clearly, though, like all of us, never reach.
We promised to continue his work, the endless agitation for ideals which he kindled in us like a mighty flame. We assured him that, as taught by his favorite Talmuidic aphorism, it was not upon him to finish the work and we would not abstain.
And indeed we have not. All five of us advocate strongly for causes that are important to us, and already in the short time since his passing, have returned to our advocacy work. My older brother, for instance, has relaunched the project that he started years ago under my father’s guidance, to write a book chronicling his experience and advocacy as both a special education professional and a person with learning disabilities.
Personally, I was privileged to honor the seventh day after his passing by addressing nearly 1000 Jewish teens in an effort to ignite in them my father’s passion for progress on the issue of inclusion, typified by his membership of the CCAR’s inclusion task force. It is easy to see how that is an issue close to my own heart as well.
You can find that speech here, and it will soon be available with subtitles.
The amazing part about giving this speech was seeing the passion that it kindled in the teenage audience, many of whom I was privileged to engage with afterward. I now understand more fully why my father was so committed to youth work as a venue for justice. In the wake of this incredible response, I have chosen to honor his memory by working to fully embrace his vision that I make this advocacy a central focus of my life.
My father felt strongly that, despite the at times overwhelming financial hurdles that I face as a person with a disability, the community would sufficiently value my mission that, as he frequently argued, I would find the necessary financial support.
As such, and is chronicled in a previous post, I have conceded to him the posthumous win by setting up a crowdfunding campaign to ask for financial support to bring my message to a broader audience. The campaign can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/Matanignites, and I would ask any who are willing to honor his memory by giving what you can.
It is my hope and belief that eventually my speaking and teaching will provide sufficient income to be self-sustaining. However, in order to build such a stream of income, I need to begin by taking engagements one at a time. My hope with this campaign is to raise enough to sustain me through that process.
My father was not one who ever prioritized money over mission, and yet he was someone who understood that in order to make a difference, one must be able to take care of oneself. I, along with my siblings, have pledged to take up his voice, in order that, though it can speak no more, it is not silenced. If you can help me support that mission, I would be eternally grateful.