[February, when I wrote this column, is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a time educate ourselves and others. For 13 years now, Jewish communities have united to support efforts to promote inclusion and acceptance. Learn more and find resources at: https://inclusioninnovations.com/jdaim/]

One Shabbat morning, seventeen years ago, I had a remarkable experience when I came off the bimah in our Meeting House, accompanying an extraordinary young bar mitzvah as he carried the sefer Torah into the congregation. Daniel Stecher possessed an absolutely indefatigable spirit that enabled him to rise above significant hearing, visual and communication disabilities to celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah.

Among the sea of faces in the congregation that morning was a face that was so startling in its difference that my first impulse was to look away. But the smile that beamed forth from that face was simply brilliant and I could not help but smile in return. After the service was over I went to find that face, to introduce myself to the person who bore it. That meeting led to a friendship that continues to inspire and prod me in necessary ways because the owner of that face is David Roche.

So who is David Roche? Let David tell you:

“I was born with a “vascular malformation”—a growth consisting of my own blood vessels—on the left side of my face and neck. As an infant, I had numerous surgeries. Radiation therapy caused the lower part of my face to stop growing and left burns on my temple and eyelid.

Yet my face is a gift because my shadow side is on the outside, where I have been forced to deal with it. Paradoxically, I have found peace through, and with, what at first seemed to be my greatest and certainly most visible flaw. Working through fear and shame, I have come to discover that I am whole.”

David is a talented poet, author and performer whose gifts have been recognized around the world. His 24-minute educational film, Love At Second Sight, will give you a clear sense of David’s talent and passion. You can view it here: https://www.loveatsecondsight.org

David is deeply involved in the Facial Difference Movement, a global community of thousands, united first in response to bullying and prejudice and now speaking with a clear voice about how people with facial differences have something powerful to offer the world.

The Talmud (Taanit 20a-b) recounts a story in which Rabbi Elazar ben R. Shimon was returning home from a long period of Torah studies and was quite pleased with himself for having studied so much. He met a man who, in Rabbi Elazar’s eyes, was very ugly, and talked to him in an insulting manner.

The man told R. Elazar, “If you have complaints about my appearance, go tell my Maker how ugly is the utensil that God made.”

R. Elazar realized that he had sinned, and begged for forgiveness.

Jewish tradition calls upon us to plumb the depths of differences, to delve beneath the surface the world presents to us, to see others for who they are, not how they appear.

To learn more about David Roche: https://www.davidroche.com/