Michelle Zaldin is a wife, mother of three children, JWRP sister, financial advisor, president of the PTC Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto, co-founder of the Game On Road Hockey Tournament in Toronto, which raised funds for Chai Lifeline Canada, as well as an active volunteer for many organizations that support children with special needs. Michelle shared how having a daughter with cerebral palsy has impacted her volunteerism, and her advice for other women who want to join supportive communities.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I had never been to Israel and I always dreamt of going. I had also heard so many great things about the MOMentum Trip — that it’s life-changing and that it awakens your soul. At the time, this was exactly what I needed. I had begun the application process twice before but hadn’t moved forward with it because I was afraid to leave my family for the week. When I applied for the third time, I was about to get cold feet, when a friend said to me, “If you pull out one more time, I’m taking your spot.” So, I went and it really was a life-changing experience.
How did your MOMentum experience impact you?
My children attend a Jewish day school, and seeing Israel and learning more about Judaism have made it easier for me to understand what they’re learning. When I returned home from Israel, I tried to explain the MOMentum experience to my husband, but I told him that he couldn’t really understand it until he traveled to Israel himself. So, he registered for the MoMENtum Trip for men. One night, he texted me, “I get it.” Since then, we’ve lived our lives a bit differently; we attend Jewish classes and we have expanded our relationships within the Jewish community. This December, we hope to travel to Israel with our three kids. It will be my third time traveling to Israel in less than three years — having never visited before the age of 47!
Why have you decided to dedicate so much of your time to supporting special needs causes?
When a cause hits close to home, people feel more inclined to give. I believe that you should treat others the way that you would like to be treated, and volunteering with special needs organizations has been my way of doing Tikkun Olam (making the world a better place). As Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”
I am proud that we are teaching our children to feel similarly. My sons donated part of their Bar Mitzvah money to Chai Lifeline Canada. For my daughter’s birthday, she asks people to donate money to Zareinu, a Jewish school for children with special needs, instead of giving her presents. Each year, the school hosts a fundraising fashion show, which my daughter participates in. Last year, she raised $4,000 for it and this year, she raised over $5,000.
What guidance would you give to other women who want to join supportive communities?
When my daughter was first diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age two, I didn’t seek out a special needs community. I wanted to handle everything on my own, and I was worried about placing a label on my daughter. But once I embraced her challenge and realized that it wasn’t going away, I made myself more open to support and learned about Camp AIM, a camp for children with special needs, and Chai Lifeline, an organization that supports families with children who are battling medical conditions. I met other parents who faced challenges that were similar to mine — some of whom have become my best friends, and I joined a Facebook group where parents of children with special needs ask questions, share advice, vent, and support one another on a daily basis.
If you’re open to getting help and finding supportive communities, ask your rabbi if he can put you in touch with anyone who faces similar challenges. Or, if you want to join a related organization, ask the leadership to connect you to a member, who can introduce you to the wider community. Search Facebook for the many support groups out there. Know that there’s no shame in getting support.
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