There was no question that Michelle Friedman (class of 1975) would attend the Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Her father, Moishe Rosen, was an alum, and her grandmother, Ida Rosen, was a founding mother and a lifetime member of the board of trustees. It didn’t matter that Friedman was visually impaired and the only student to attend the school with a disability. “I was in a small environment of people who knew me my whole life, which helped me be successful at a regular school. It was a nurturing community where I wasn’t treated any differently. I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else.”
Now with two graduated children, as she continues her involvement with the school as co-president, Friedman says, “What the Academy represents to me is an environment where children learn strong Jewish values, a love of Torah, a love of Israel, as well as an environment that prepares them become strong participating members of the world at large.”
Friedman’s son, Aaron (class of 2003), was the first official third-generation Academy student.
Friedman works with Academy freshmen every year during Health Week, teaching them to be more sensitive to people with disabilities. She blindfolds students and asks them to walk with canes. “I teach them that for me, having a disability is a matter of being a good problem solver and having a positive attitude. My blindness is no different than having brown hair. It’s just who I am.”
Friedman’s success in life can be attributed almost entirely to her attitude. “My parents told me as a child that I can do anything I want except drive. So my attitude is that ‘I’ll figure it out.’” She’s remembered that encouragement throughout all of her experiences.
As a professional life coach who helps people overcome their own personal obstacles, Friedman tells clients, “While life may present obstacles and difficulties, they doesn’t have to be permanent and unmovable. There are always challenges and difficulties in life, but it’s what you do with them that is important.”
Friedman doesn’t let her disability stop her from accomplishing anything she desires. When she wanted to learn to ride horses, she found an equestrian place that works with blind people. She also does ceramics and admits she has a few really good pieces. And she plans in the future to parachute from a plane. “When there’s something I really want to do, there aren’t a lot of things that can stop me.”
From her upbringing and her education at the Academy, Friedman says she learned that “everything is for a reason. I may not know the reason, but I accept it, and maybe the reason I am blind is to teach people to be more tolerant, compassionate and accepting of others.”
Wendy Margolin is communications director at Ida Crown Jewish Academy and a Chicago writer.