Sheri Shefa, The CJN, July 3rd 2016
Adam Wolfond donated $28,000 to Ve’ahavta’s Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless outreach program on the occasion of his bar mitzvah in April, but that’s not the whole story.
Adam, who is autistic, non-verbal and requires an iPad to communicate, is a social justice advocate.
In addition to the donation, Adam, along with his mother, Estee Klar, and his father, Henry Wolfond, joined Amit Robson, Ve’ahavta’s community outreach worker, on a ride in the mobile response van to deliver food and supplies to some of the city’s homeless.
Wearing a T-shirt that said, “Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say,” during his interview with The CJN, Adam spoke about his ride, which took place in the weeks before his April 28 bar mitzvah.
“The homeless people were very amazing… The homeless people were like you and me and they need pleasing food you like to eat,” he said through his iPad.
Klar said that as Adam’s bar mitzvah approached, they had discussions about what organization he wanted to support. She said one of the factors that helped them choose Ve’ahavta was that it is not a “hand down charity.”
“Ve’ahavta is involved, it has a relationship with people. That was important,” she said.
As for Adam, when it comes to social justice issues, his interests are in animal rights, environmentalism and homelessness.
“There are a lot of misconceptions with autistic people – that they are not aware, that they lack empathy toward others, but quite the opposite is true. He demonstrates a sensitivity to other people and their situations,” Klar said.
A video produced for his bar mitzvah featured Adam’s dvar Torah, which focused on Moses, with whom he identified because he was a stutterer.
“I am pleased that Moses was a stutterer because it is good to have a lot of really important, awesome people with disabilities who are part of the Torah,” Adam said in the video.
The video also incorporated Adam’s views on social justice issues, people’s misconceptions about homelessness, about the need for equality and respect for one another, and about his challenges with communication.
“A lot of people want us to all be the same. The really hard question is the way people think about disability… I think that real problems are about terrible attitudes toward people with disabilities,” Adam said.
“Noticing who I am in the inside is always hard for people because everyone sees only the way they really want to. It’s hard to change their minds.”
He said despite being autistic, he wants the same things everyone else wants.
“Equality is what I want. Equal rights means that everyone is treated with the same respect… Social change is the key.”
Robson, who accompanied Adam and his parents in the van to serve some of Ve’ahavta’s clients, said he was impressed by him.
“Here was this kid who has his own challenges, and on the surface of things, appears to have a disability to deal with. With the proper resources and support he has from his family, and with this technological age, he is able to overcome it and have this shining personality come right through,” Robson said.
“It embodies what we’re tying to do, with the clients we serve as people who also have challenges and outwardly look one way. But with the right supports, you can cultivate that and have their personalities shine through. I think Adam exemplified that to everybody. Somehow, without speaking those words, without talking about it on that level, I think somehow that is what resonated.”
Robson said Adam did not seem to be defined by his challenges.
“He managed to show himself as a smart, thoughtful, bright and super enthusiastic young kid and I think through the strength of his personality he managed to not just overcome those challenges, but to transcend them.”
At the end of the interview, Adam had a question for this reporter – one that showed the shining personality Robson spoke about.
“Is the newspaper going to have a picture, like, the amazing handsome guy I am?”
On June 24, Ve’ahavta presented Adam with a certificate award for his contribution.