Camp HASC

By Shevi Handlesman

My twin and I share a lot of things. But not everything.

I’m Shua, and I’m nine. My twin Eli and I share clothes, balls, and bags of chips. But we don’t share doctors, teachers, or books. That’s because I have cerebral palsy, and Eli doesn’t. That means he goes to a regular yeshiva, but a special handicap accessible bus takes me to my special school every day. And when strangers can’t understand my words and keep saying “What? What?” Eli steps in and repeats the sentence more clearly.

Sometimes, I wish I had what Eli has. I want to read big boy books and hit baseballs across the lawn. I want to ride a bike down the hill and dive into the pool at my aunt’s house. And I don’t want people to stare at me or talk to me funny.

But there’s one awesome thing I have that Eli doesn’t. I get to go to Camp HASC every summer. And for those two months, I do all the fun stuff I dream about all year. My counselors treat me like their best friend and those amazing friendships make every sad feeling disappear.

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They call it something fancy. Like “cognitive impairment,” I think.

Or maybe “cognitive delays?” Either way, that’s what I have.

I’m Leah, but everyone calls me Lele. I was born with autism, so I don’t act like other kids my age. It’s hard for me to explain it, but I know I’m different.

Sometimes people do googly-eyes at me. Sometimes they whisper about me. And sometimes they think I can’t see when they point at me.

Except in the summer. When I go to Camp HASC, everyone is different, but we all feel the same. We are all like sisters and brothers, and we all fit in. I don’t feel like a kid with autism. I just feel like a lucky HASC camper! Lots of times in the winter when things are cold and hard, I think about the upcoming summer and I just want to dance in anticipation.

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My mother says there’s a special sparkle in my eyes. Especially in the summer.

What does it mean to “melt a heart?” Because I once heard my mother say, “Duvi’s smile can melt your heart.” And my eyes have a sparkle—I know because I checked in the mirror.

Do you know what Down Syndrome is? I do. I have it.

You know how during Covid you just want to feel normal? Everything feels so different, and you just want to be free?

That’s how I feel sometimes. I’m seventeen already, and I watch big boys like me learning Gemara, getting their licenses, and going on vacation with their friends. I want that, too, but I understand that Hashem made me the way I am.

That’s why I go on Zoom with a special rebbe every day, the same one who taught me for my bar mitzvah. He’s also the one who told my parents to send me to Camp HASC.

And that’s where my eyes really sparkle. I wait all year for the chance to meet my best friends, the ones who really understand me and want the best for me.

And the best part? Sometimes I learn in the morning in the Camp HASC Kollel, where I taste a bit of Gemara. It’s Geshmak!

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These are the voices we share. We each march to our own drum, but the melody we create is woven of so many different experiences—and so many different triumphs. And we are all better for sharing them.

At Camp HASC, we don’t need to apologize for who we are. And we can beat the odds. It’s where everyone belongs. And everyone finds a special piece of themselves. This is we.

Some people call it magic. We call it HASC.

Ready to experience “This is WE”—A show of love, a show of care, a show of support?

Stay tuned. It’s coming, and it’s huge. (Courtesy of Camp HASC, the show of shows)

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