Today Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. At Zeh Lezeh we want to use it as an opportunity to share with you Noah Hartman’s deeply loving tribute to his brother Aaron— a man so devoted to family, faith, and community that he is a role model for us all. (Now if only he could get a few more hours at work…)
Whose life, and love of life, do you celebrate today?
My brother Aaron
By Noah Hartman
Developmental disabilities often translate into a person being treated differently, perhaps with kid gloves. While this is the case to a small degree with my 42-year-old brother Aaron, it’s not because he wants it that way, and it’s not because people feel sorry for him. It’s because Aaron is special—not because his needs are.
Aaron has the absolute purest soul. I imagine it somehow containing every living being on the planet because Aaron always has room for another friend and compassion for another animal, and he somehow finds the light in even the darkest people and places. He doesn’t have time to waste on being upset, and he believes in a world in which differences enrich people instead of dividing them.
For someone with a number of very real limitations, Aaron—who has Williams Syndrome—continues to accomplish a tremendous amount…enough to make those of us with fewer limitations feel lazy! He has two jobs; he finds his way around Atlanta independently; he remembers names, faces, and phone numbers after one meeting; he cares deeply for family and regularly checks in on his nieces and nephews; he participates in community; he contributes to Jewish life in Atlanta (where he’s the self-proclaimed and widely adored “mayor”); he votes every election cycle; he reads enthusiastically; he asks about sick friends and relatives; and he takes care of his own home.
Last year, Aaron won an award from the Tommy Nobis Foundation for “outstanding workplace accomplishments of individuals with disabilities.” He is a greeter at his local Publix grocery store, and while more work hours would be great for him (and Publix), he makes the most of his few days per week on the job. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and he’s proud to be a tax-paying citizen like the rest of us (who are often much less proud).
When we were kids in Atlanta, there were disappointingly few options and resources in the Jewish education community. None of the local day schools could accommodate Aaron’s learning needs, and only one or two rabbis in the community ever reached out to help. It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes only one or two can be enough. Today, Aaron is incredibly Jewishly involved: he often walks to three different synagogues on Shabbat mornings. He waits anxiously to hear if he might be called to the Torah for an aliyah. He never misses an opportunity to recite yizkor in memory of our mother. And he proudly proclaims that he’s a kohen, descending from Biblical Aaron.
I’m pretty sure that one day, someone will be similarly proud to proclaim the same thing about Brother Aaron.
Noah Hartman is Head of School at Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead, Massachusetts.