By Howard Blas, Director-National Ramah Tikvah Network
On the first day of camp each summer, counselors and division heads sometimes give their campers the task of coming up with room and edah (division) rules which all will agree to follow. Many start with the obvious—like no fighting, and no touching or taking others’ possessions without permission. These “basics” are easily observable and measurable. Campers doing this exercise quickly realize that it is impossible to list every single rule and behavioral expectation, and that there are often gray areas and need for interpretation and good judgement. They ultimately arrive at basic principles like “be nice,” “be kind” and “show respect to all.”
Our Jewish tradition offers some useful general principles and reminders on how to behave. The Torah teaches “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 9:17), and Rabbi Hillel reminds us (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a), “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”
Sometimes, we need specific “dos and don’ts.” In my 25 years working with National Ramah’s Tikvah inclusion programs for people with disabilities, I have learned that most people with autism, and perhaps most people in general, rely on rules and routines to keep their environment predictable and to feel safe. Rules keep the community running smoothly and they attempt to eliminate doubt as to what is permitted and what is forbidden.