By Ayelet Bortunk
I’d like to “speak openly” from the heart for a moment about my son Motti.
Motti will be 9 years old (KAH) in just a few short months. Motti is not just another 9 year old boy. He was born with Down Syndrome. I cannot begin to tell you how much uncertainty there was leaving the hospital with this new baby being told “he will never do …” and that “we shouldn’t expect much”. I must be honest, I spent the many of those early years in a state of loss and defeat, (that being an entirely different discussion). But this is not what this letter is about. This letter is about love, acceptance, perseverance, and triumph; feelings that were shaken walking out those hospital doors.
Motti’s education started out on a different path than his other brothers. While they entered Yeshiva at the age of 2, Motti went to Public School. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right decision. Just a few short years later another big decision needed to be made. Perhaps it was more arguing then deciding in the beginning, but together my husband and I decided it was time to put Motti into a Jewish school. Living in Florida meant that we were at a crossroad. There are not too many Chabad schools in South Florida with a proper Special Needs program. And there was one other thing. We didn’t want just any Chabad school, but the same Yeshiva my other sons attended, the school that I attended in my youth and have worked at for 23 years. This school is more than just a job, it’s more like family. However, we were met with one very large challenge. They didn’t have a Special Needs program.
So, after many sleepless nights of wondering if we were doing the right thing for Motti, we took the plunge and registered him at The Lubavitch Educational Center. B’H I was able to bring in proper help for him along the way. Motti had a slew of different Physical and Occupational Therapists who worked daily with him. I hired tutors to help him, as well as a feeding therapist. Everyone at LEC was very welcoming and accommodating to his specific needs, which continued throughout his preschool years.
Last year, in 1st grade, Motti was quiet and shy. His teacher Dina Lieberman taught him straight from her heart. She was so amazingly involved and dedicated to Motti that after numerous meeting, we decided to hire her as his 2nd grade Para/shadow. She left a full time teaching position to be work with Motti, and believe me she wasn’t going to be getting a large salary. This year, Motti can’t walk down the hall without a high five, smile or an excited greeting from anyone and everyone. He is friends and buddies with teachers, students, teachers’ aides, coaches, school security guards, kitchen staff and maintenance workers. You cannot imagine how many people randomly stop me to tell me of their interactions with Motti and to remind me how amazing he is. As if I would ever forget!
In the past few months I have had countless amazing moments that have brought me great tears of joy. From his first birthday party he attended without me sitting by his side, to standing proudly and confidently in the front of his class being chazzan, thanks to his teacher Mrs. Esti Bonnardel. To reciting a pasuk on stage in front of thousands of children at a Grand Lag B’Omer Hakel Rally, credits go to Rabbi Yaakov Garfinkel on that one. The list goes on and on.
The point I am trying to express here is that we absolutely made the right decision! Motti is in a school with “typical” children and teachers who for the most part not trained in the field of Special Education, and while I’m sure by now his friends know he’s different (they know he needs extra help walking up and down the stairs and going to the bathroom) they are an amazing bunch of boys. Each and every boy in his class has played an important role in his social life and his self-esteem. There is one very specific story I would like to recount. One day there was a big school raffle. Everyone in his class knows how much Motti loves raffles. So, every single one of his classmates who had earned raffle tickets wrote “Motti Bortunk” on their tickets. Of course Motti won a prize and the entire school cheered and chanted his name “Motti Bortunk!!” Not only did I hear it from my office 7 floors up but my phone was lighting up like crazy from all the pictures and video clips being sent to me from numerous staff members. These types of scenarios happen more often than not, and I am constantly filled with overwhelming nachas.
Not only does Motti have an amazing group of boys in his class, but his teachers have no doubt changed his life for the better, forever. The expectations he was given and met along with the standards he was guided towards is by far more than I could have ever imagined. Lubavitch Educational Center has proven to be open to any and every child by teaching them and guiding them to be the best that THEY can be.
There are so many who play major roles in Mottis life throughout his years in LEC, who whom I am forever grateful for their love. Yet there are a few that I would be remise if I didn’t acknowledge here.
Rabbi Yakov Garfinkel
Mrs. Esti Bonnardel
Mrs. Dina Lieberman
Mrs. Shaindel Mankes
Miss Esti Garfinkel
Mrs. Shevi Sossonko
Aside from thanking the Yeshiva and all those who have taken Motti under their wing, I want to convey an important message about limitations.
Never let limitations set upon you by others get in the way of your success or the success of your children. Make the most of what you have and the best will be your outcome.
By Motti’s proud mother,