Today was parent visiting day at Neve Michael. The people that put the kids, my family, in this home were all standing right in front of me. It was the most confusing and emotionally exhausting day of my life.
My first experience with a visiter was being completely surprised by two adults the minute I walked into my kevutza. They were visiting their nephew, Gabi, in the home. By the end of the day I learned that they were kind hearted people. Gabis aunt showed me a video of her playing the accordion with Gabi on the saxophone for a crowd of dancing Americans. I saw the happiness and pride in both their faces as I watched the video.
But when I first saw them I couldn't even look at them. My first assumption was they were bad people who placed Gabi in Neve Michael . At first I simply pretended they weren't there. But then Gabi pridefully introduced me to them.
As the day went on I continued to ignore the existence of the visitors. Later in the day I saw the parents of a child who I knew were in the home because of harsh physical abuse. They came to me and asked where they could find their son. At first I was speechless. Completely livid. My eyes were wide and my nose was flaring. I walked them to his kevutza, trying hard not to picture what awful things I knew they had done to this boy.
Yechiam spoke to us last Shabbat about the importance of involving the children's parents in their lives in the ways that were possible. He explained that to the kids, the parents are still their parents. Despite whatever happened in the past, the kids still value every moment with their parents far higher than they would with anyone else. What is best for the children, according to Yechiam, is if the parents and home work together for the child's rehabilitation.
It was so difficult for me to come to terms with this. I hated seeing one boy clutch to his mothers dress while she smoked a cigarette and ignored him on her phone. I hated seeing another mother complain to the Neve Michael staff about how the food they were serving was unacceptable. I even hated watching normal conversations occur between parents and their children. It just didn't make sense to me. I understood that I didn't know each situation, but still I couldn't understand why it was ok for these people to send their children to these homes, and then visit them like nothing ever happened.
I felt nothing but anger towards the parents until I witnessed one act of pure goodness which totally shifted my perspective.
As i was sitting by myself in my exhaustion, waiting to say goodbye to the kids who were leaving for the weekend, I noticed an American volunteer approach a mother of a child who was sitting by herself in a wheelchair. The volunteer sat by her and spoke to her for no more than 2 minutes, but when she left, she left the lady smiling.
I saw parents crying with happiness from seeing their children, some crying in sadness that they would need to leave them, some neglecting their children completely, others simply pretending that nothing was wrong and the situation their child was in was completely normal. But every parent met, I neglected to remember something: that these were human beings. For the first time in my life I felt empathy for the parents of the children that put their kids in Neve Michael.
I came to Neve Michael this summer for one reason: to give smiles to people who need to smile. My personal feelings and judgements got in the way of accomplishing that.
Only because of this volunteer/s act of complete selflessness and ability to look at human being as a human being was I able to learn this.