February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM). Each Friday this month, we will cast a spotlight on an individual who embodies the values of JDAAIM. This is a project of LiNK Jewish Buffalo’s Belonging Initiative and today we are delighted to feature Andy Glickman, whose spotlight is written by his proud father, and Vice President of Congregation Shir Shalom, Joe.
Andy Glickman is a cheerful and friendly man of 29. He has led a challenging life being diagnosed as Autistic when he was around 2 years old. We noticed that he had delayed speech and his focus was not like other babies and certainly not developing as his older brother Steven. Back in 1994, there was not a lot known about autism and there were far fewer children diagnosed with the condition. A doctor specializing in developmentally delayed children gave us the unfortunate news after a checkup in her office. Naturally we asked what the future would hold, and we were told that he might be able to hold some manual labor job when he was fully developed. In a nutshell, she was right but still overstated the skill level Andy would achieve. Not much was known about Autism and the spectrum of this disorder. What caused it, why Andy and why us? We knew we had our work cut out for us.
In many ways he started out similar to his peers. We started him in preschool, interacting with other children, and family events. We sent him to elementary school, and chose schools which had an emphasis on special needs children in the district, and we sent him to religious school at Temple Beth Am. Our goal was just to keep him with other children his age and maybe he would learn and grow in this environment. His mother searched the internet for families with similar situations and children like Andy. She even got his story published in a chapter of a book by a prominent author who had a delayed speaking son. In school, he was well-liked at the beginning of the year but by spring time, the teachers were burned out and threw up their hands as to what to do with Andy. He needed much more attention than the other children due to his class interruptions and lack of mental and physical skills. He did a little better at Temple Beth Am and would interact with some of the educators, but as with public school, it was overwhelming for the staff. He liked the Temple environment and he liked the music as that would calm him a little. The Rabbis and cantors would be very attentive to Andy and of course Andy liked attention.
Through his school years he was educated in Williamsville, attended Summit, and finally entered and graduated from Sweet Home High School with a special degree. His teacher in high school who had been a special needs teacher said that she hadn’t had an autistic child like Andy and didn’t know if she would be able to handle him. He needed to do something different every 5 minutes and they had more passive children in the class than Andy, much less physical and much less verbal. However, the special needs director told us he wanted Andy in school and they will learn to handle his special condition and Andy will learn how to be successful. With a caring teacher and loving aids, and I should add great peers, together they helped shape Andy into a more understanding and responsible person who felt like he finally belonged. It wasn’t magic- just persistence and direction from the staff that really helped Andy with his upcoming future path.
Andy always liked going to Temple. He enjoyed it because his grandparents and brother were deeply involved. His grandparents, Marshall and Marlene Glickman sang in the choir, and his brother was involved as president of the youth group and had his Bar Mitzvah there. It was a place of calm and order for Andy. Religious school didn’t appeal to him as they didn’t have the staff to dedicate to his needs but he liked and still likes the services and especially the High Holy Days. His grandfather blew the Shofar for many years and after his passing in 2002, his brother Steven took over that job and continues in this role. Andy takes pride in asking every one’s name and making friends and at Temple, today Shir Shalom; he knows many of the congregants and leaders and they know him. This makes him Happy. Of course, he also likes the Oneg Shabbat due to his pension for sweets!
One thing that Autistic folks have in common is that they like schedules and familiar events that reoccur on a regular basis. Temple throughout Andy’s life has provided this comfort zone. Through 29 years and the many changes he has seen with school, activities, the people that come into and out of his life, Congregation Shir Shalom, and Judaism, has always been there. It’s the one connection that he has to his family and his life that hasn’t changed. Walking into a building that holds memories and friendships transcending time is so important to Andy and kids like him everywhere.
Today, Andy is involved with Aspire doing volunteer work at the Salvation Army and delivering Meals on Wheels. He also works with his daily aide Lisa and others. He maintains a tight and regular schedule, although it was more certain prior to the pandemic. Another aspect in Andy’s life is the development of the last several years, of a group of friends and families that have been meeting to create a men’s Jewish group home. There are 5 men who have been meeting on a regular basis to maintain friendships and hope that the state and local agencies will grant them a group home so they can have a future of certainty. The Men’s parents are aging and they are wondering what they will be doing in the future and where they will go next. As Andy has experienced over his life, without certainty, without a plan, without people he is familiar with, all the phenomenal growth in his behavior and character, will go in reverse without the planned Jewish group home and continuance in the Buffalo Jewish community.
LiNK’s Belonging vision is for all Jews, their friends and Life partners of other faiths, and people exploring Judaism to feel welcome to participate in Jewish living and learning experiences to the extent of their abilities and interest, and to find a space of belonging in Jewish Buffalo regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability. For more information on Belonging, please email Mike Steklof here.
Andy & Joe Glickman