Eric Rosenthal Stands Up for Those Who Cannot

Disabled Rights Advocate Wins $100K Bronfman Prize


By Seth Berkman

Published July 09, 2013, issue of July 12, 2013.
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What is the worst situation you have encountered on your travels?

Comparing the inner rings of hell can be very hard. In Kosovo, we visited a psychiatric hospital called Štimlje. Little kids were living among adults — they had all been abused by the adults in the facility. One of the impacts of attachment disorder is that children who do not grow up with a mother or father can’t distinguish between who is and who is not a parent. They’ll throw their arms around you and say, “Mommy,” “Daddy,” and they’ll cling to you and not want you to leave.

In this particular case I remember a little kid grabbed me, started calling me “Daddy.” We left the facility, we’re getting into the van to leave and this kid found a way to slip out the door and ran into the van and the staff literally opened it up and ripped the kid away and the kid was screaming, “Daddy, Daddy.” A story like that haunts me. I have my own 11-year-old daughter and ever since I had my own daughter it’s been very, very hard to visit kids’ facilities.

What can the average person do to help the situation?

Whenever they give money, they should be careful and hold their own charities and grantees accountable. Make sure they’re asking hard questions as to where that money is going. Don’t support orphanages, don’t support segregation. Support families. Make sure kids have the right to be with their family.

How will the Bronfman Prize increase your organization’s profile?

The most important thing that it’s done is brought tremendous publicity to this issue. I never really brought my personal and professional life into such close connection. The idea that this would be an issue that would speak specifically to the Jewish people, that I need to reach out to that kind of base, is something that never really occurred to me.

To get support from the Jewish community like this has meant so much to me personally and is incredibly important for our organization. Having that backing is going to make all the difference.


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