A Facebook post by one mom in support of her son’s rare skin disorder has brought the well-known Israeli culture of caring to the forefront. Photos of Israelis with spots drawn on their faces are appearing all over social media.
The pop-up kindness campaign is in tribute to eight-year-old Erez Gaon, who has many congenital melanocytic nevi (a type of birthmark).
Erez’s mother, Ruthi, posted a heartfelt message on her Facebook page after a woman and her daughter made fun of Erez. She also posted photos of herself with hand-drawn dots on her face pulling silly faces with her son.
“I swear I got used to people staring at you, the comments behind our back; the sad fact is that no matter how much we talk of inclusion and acceptance the different one remains excluded and will always draw attention,” Gaon posted on October 8. “Sometimes it is even amusing. But it is hard for me when people are just mean. How can someone laugh about you, my beloved son?
“Erezi, the easiest thing would have been to explode at that mother, laughing at her young daughter’s insulting remarks about your unique look (things I can’t even put in writing). I swear that at that moment I felt as if I would squash her face (and much more). But you just smiled, took my hand and just kept on walking.
“A magical touch you have, my child. It’s a fact that instead of me wanting to strangle her I have decided to show everyone that I am so proud of you and your many dots. Especially that dot which is really close to your beautiful eye that manages to see all the goodness in this world and disregard all the rest.”
One day later, social media was awash with posts by dozens of random Israelis – even some on holiday in Europe – who had drawn spots on their faces and uploaded the photos alongside a Hebrew hashtag that translates to “Friends of Erez.”
Israeli singer Yehoram Gaon, a cousin of the family, posted a spotted picture with the caption, “Proud to be related.”
Ruthi Gaon drew thousands of comments and shares for her post, which explains that Erez’s rare condition is not contagious. “There are brave children and adults who are challenged by it all over the world,” she writes.
A few months ago, Erez’s dad and uncle started a website, yooocan, “to improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families by enabling easy discovery of activities, products, services and innovation” that can “better their situation and showcase their ability, rather than disability.”
“Like Erez, there are over one billion people in the world living with some kind of cognitive or physical disability. The problem is that although there are many activities, services and products out there, people don’t know about them,” writes Moshe Gaon, Erez’s uncle.
And in the spirit of the Jewish High Holiday season, Ruthi – who has two other kids in addition to Erez — ended her post on an uplifting note: “And to you, dear mother, if this post reaches you just know that I choose to forgive you, not only because it is the days of forgiveness of Rosh Hashana but because of my treasure [Erez] who teaches me every day how to be a better person.”