Kids can be cruel.
This is what I discovered as our family kept moving from one small furnished apartment to another in towns that dotted Long Island. We were poor even by 1950s standards. My younger siblings and I went to school dressed in shabby clothes. This was enough of a marginalizing factor. But in my case, being legally blind multiplied the stigma. And being the perpetual new kid in class due to our seemingly endless moves didn’t help, either.
Kids would pick on me.
But here is where the good things begin…
My wise parents, of tough Brooklyn Jewish stock, would have none of it. Quoting my mother Bea Nichol, of blessed memory, verbatim: “Richy, never start a fight, but stand up for your rights.” They sent me to boxing school, to a Saturday morning program in East Meadow, New York. I was seven at the time, and I was proud of the white T-shirt with “Physical Arts School” emblazoned on the front, which I had won in recognition of my punching bag skills.
The net result of the weight training and boxing practice, along with my parents’ consistent verbalizing of their love and support, remains with me to this day, some sixty years later. I have never felt the need to hide, make excuses, or run for cover when encountering life’s punches.
The poor eyesight and early experiences with poverty occasioned other blessings. For example, I have not shied away from the marginalization that comes with the territory of our Messianic Judaism. Enduring the embarrassment that came when my teachers often pushed my school desk all the way up to the blackboard, separating me from the other kids, was a common experience. But I can honestly say that even this routine has served as a form of emotional body-building. I believe in Yeshua and I believe that Jewish life in Him is important. Even close relatives and neighbors may snicker, emotionally pressing my desk away from theirs, but growing up poor and legally blind has given me lots of practice with confronting marginality. Let me be clear: the experiences I am describing have been very hurtful. But I simply have never felt crushed by them.
So how about you? Can you look at genetic and other liabilities and see how these can, even today, yield positive personal fruit? Can you thank God for the embarrassing moments, the shaming experiences that separated you from others? Can you even today gain strength from challenges that you’d gladly do without? With Messiah Yeshua’s help, I urge you to make the following words your words. We exclaim these words at our services, after completing a reading of the scroll of the Torah:
Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong and let us (intensively) be strengthened!
In part four of this series, I’ll discuss ways you can compensate for your limitations, things I have learned based on my experience as the Legally-Blind President.
This is the third article in a six-part series. For the next installment, click here.
This post was written by MJTI President Rabbi Dr. Rich Nichol.