Tonight, Sunday, March 8th, Mrs. Chana Sharfstein, together with the Friendship Circle of Brooklyn, will present an evening of awareness for people with special needs titled “Building Bridges.”
The event is being held in commemoration of Sharfstein’s autistic daughter Zlatie’s Yahrtzeit, who passed away last year at the age of 53.
Chana Sharfstein is a fighter. Throughout much of her life she endured tragedy, struggles and many obstacles. This never deterred her, always fighting for what was right and in her eyes just.
When her autistic daughter Zlatie passed away, it propelled her to continue to fight on behalf of people with special needs.
“When Zlatie was diagnosed with Autism, the medical condition was only in its infancy,” Sharfstein recalls. “There were no occupational therapists, physical therapists or early intervention to assist the child. Few resources such as day camps, schools or residential centers were available.”
Yet most painful for her and her family was the lack of support and understanding of the needs of this population. While many in the 1960’s chose to hide their children from the public, Sharfstein took no such actions and treated her like every other member of the family, taking her to the park, restaurants and public events. As a result there was a backlash for her family, who were the recipients of mocking by classmates, belittling of teachers and negative undertones from their neighbors.
While today, Sharfstein says things are much better, with community support, schools catering to this population, and such organizations as the Chabad run Friendship Circle, she says that the community at large still needs to learn about people with special needs and how they can be more sensitive to them and their families. In a new book Dignified Differences: A Special Soul, Sharfstein and her family talk about their pain, their triumphs and how they feel.
“Zlatie’s life impacted our family in a most painful and heartbreaking way,” her brother Sruli Sharfstein writes, “It was during a time when people with special needs were not understood. Our neighbors, associates and mentors teased me, and at times placed the blame of her ‘blemishes’ on me. I still feel the pain. I still live with the insults and ridicule I endured as a child.”
For Sruli it was tragic, but he triumphed and sees Zlatie as not only being a challenge for those who encountered her: “I feel that Zlatie was placed on this earth to test our humanity and compassion. Some failed; others greatly succeeded.”
The event will take place tonight, Sunday at the Jewish Children’s Museum, 792 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY, from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. At the event Dignified Differences: A Special Soul will be distributed to all attendees.