by Rabbi Yehuda Srevnik
"Secrets of the Soul" beckoned to me from a shelf in one of Jerusalem's finest Jewish book stores, inviting me to take a fascinating journey into the rich inner world of nonverbal, non-literate special children. It called me to discover the startling spiritual messages revealed by means of Facilitated Communication, a new method for communicating with the mentally disabled. The warm endorsements of some of the most illustrious gedolei Yisroel who feel that the astounding, searing messages of these children should be taken to heart by all of us, assured me that this book wasn't science-fiction but truth, black on white.
The very moment I began reading, I knew that a tremendous adventure awaited me. How could I not feel that way, when the book opens with a haunting, most unusual message, composed by an autistic child named Menachem. "Everyone knows my name. I am the sadness of your soul. I am the broken heart which brings you closer to the Redemption. I am the embodiment of Hashem's rachmonus toward you. You need me. Our generation needs Menachem. You need many like me to mitigate the terrible sentence which hovers over our heads. A broken person with a broken heart searches for Hashem."
While I don't know any autistic children named Menachem, I do know an autistic little girl named Rina who lives across the street from me, and a CP child named Yossi, three houses away. Come to think of it, nearly every morning I see a group of four mentally disabled children trudging down the block, accompanied by five counselors -- four to control the children, the fifth to ward off the curious eyes of passersby who still don't know that Menachem is the sadness of their souls, and that they need him.
Do Rina and Yossi, who seem trapped in wordless prisons, unable to express themselves except by unruly, unsociable behavior, feel like Menachem? Do they also sense that they are the sadness of our souls?
"I have to read on," I told myself.
Although the purpose of the author of "Secrets of the Soul", Rabbi Yehuda Srevnik, a noted scientist, Torah lecturer and ram in a yeshiva, is to explain Facilitated Communication from a scientific, religious, sociological and educational point of view, the book doesn't read like a text book but rather like an exciting novel which transports us into the realm of the soul -- that pure and untainted Divine entity which Hashem has placed into each and every one of us.
Actually, as I read through the book, I realized that the mentally disabled are, by means of FC, not only opening windows to their pure souls, but also to the souls of each and every one of us. After reading the poignant and stirring dialogues of these children, I understood that we, the able bodied, may learn much about the power of our own souls by lending an ear to the 'disabled'.
Deftly, and in an amazingly thorough manner, Rabbi Srevnik refutes the allegations of the scientific disclaimers of FC, one by one, presenting solid, documented proofs of the validty of FC. By the same token, he presents a lucid Torah view of this phenomenon, basing himself on the insights of some of our greatest sages, among them R' Yonoson Eibshitz and R' Eliyohu Dessler.
When FC first appeared on the scene, many felt that the childen were merely repeating the thoughts of their facilitators. Rabbi Srevnik demolishes this theory very systematically and clearly. However, anyone reading the dialogues, vignettes and essays presented in this book, will immediately realize that the thoughts of the children originate in their own minds. The touching dialogues and vignettes speak for themselves, like this one about Rivky:
"Rivky is currently eight years old. She suffers from a serious case of CP. Rivky refuses to live in the residential facility in which she is registered. She claims that she has nothing to do there and feels out of place. She is treated like a baby, when she is really interested in studying Torah. At home, she asks her family to help her skim through sifrei kodesh, indicating to them which one she wants to study. She even advises them in which store to purchase the sefer! She also insists on being taken to the lectures of great rabbis. When her parents demanded that she return to the residential facility like all of the other CP children, she staged a hunger strike. Of course, the facility wasn't willing to assume responsibility for a child who doesn't eat, and her parents were forced to keep her at home. Whenever the members of her family are lax in a particular area in Yiddishkeit, she rebukes them and makes certain that a high ethical level prevails in her home.
"Once, when her mother was on the telephone, she heard screaming. The mother asked her daughter Miriam, who knew how to facilitate, to find out what was wrong. It soon became clear that the mother had spoken loshon hora and that Rivky was trying to prevent her from continuing the conversation. Rivky wrote: `Ima, stop talking right now. You're speakingloshon hora.' Obviously, neither Rivky's hands nor thoughts were being guided by anyone but herself."
For whom is this book intended? It is hoped that when parents with disabled children read about FC's benefits, they, too, will be helped, and both they and their children will be given new leases on life. However, our gedolei Yisroel regard the messages in this book as having further reaching ramifications, with pertinence for all of us. In his endorsement of the Hebrew book, R' Nosson Wachtfogel, zt'l, the Mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha of America in Lakewood, wrote: "The Creator, Blessed be He, pitied His nation and in His vast kindness, sent us a means for arousing people from their deep slumber, in the form of Facilitated Communication." The great gaon, R' Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman shlita, personally told the author of the book that FC is a manifestation of Divine compassion meant to arouse the slumbering... and is a means for strengthening bnei Torah."
Sadly, this book is timely. Why do we say `sadly'? In their essays, many of which are presented verbatim, the children stress that we are living in difficult times and must dotshuva. We wish we weren't living in such difficult times. But "eis tzoro hu l'Yaakov umimena yivosheia." Following is a compelling message written by an autistic boy named Yossi:
"It strikes me funny that precisely autistic children have to tell regular people something that is so clear. It's really a shame. Hashem sends so many messages. But who listens... The religious Jews receive messages on a daily basis. Every day young people die. Every day more children are orphaned. How many sick people must there be? How many widows? How many widowers? How many children have strayed from the Torah way of life? How many bizarre tragedies? How many? How many? How many? How many couples suffer fromsholom bayis problems? How many? The numbers are incredible. Yet we don't understand that these are messages - clear messages. We must scrutinize ourselves, and not point to others. Everyone must examine himself and his social circle, because something is wrong."
I could go on and on describing the vast treasures I found in this book, issuing not from the mouths or the pens of the mentally disabled, but from their pure souls. But then I would have to write a book, and not a succinct book review. I urge you, then, to read "Secrets of the Soul." You will never be the same - only better!
NOTE: All the dialogues in this book are authentic. Its author has precise records of the names of the children who authored the messages, and the names of the facilitators involved in all of the FC sessions. Among the subheadings in this comprehensive book are: "How Did FC Begin?"; "Unique Capacities of Special Children"; "The Controversy"; "Court Verdict"; "Scientific Theory Toppled by an Infant"; "Torah's Light Burns Forever" and "Startling Implications of FC" by Rabbi Yechiel Sitzman, a leading expert on FC. Among the exciting features it contains are accounts of the past lives of these children as written by the children themselves; interviews with a CP child named Galia, which open with "Ima, I love you"; profound essays written by a unique autistic young man named Ben Golden, and interviews with children in Pisgat Yehuda, a special yeshiva for autistic children.
"Secrets of the Soul" is currently available at good Jewish bookstores.