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The Gift of Stuttering – Confronting life’s challenges, a personal journey by Moe Mernick

Review by Michael Maman, former Coast Guard (PO3)

It may seem odd to call stuttering, a debilitating speech impediment, a gift. For Moe Mernick, a young Jewish kid growing up in Toronto, his stuttering would lead him to self-discovery and find ways to help others overcome their own life challenges. Mernick explains that the challenge of growing up in Toronto with a stutter from age three was compounded by growing up with a religious Jewish background. Why would G-d, he asks, who is all loving and compassionate, give me this stutter for so long, preventing me from fully expressing myself, suffering many episodes of isolation, teasing, and embarrassment?

Through his journey, Mernick discovers the wisdom of famous Jewish thinkers, like Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal), and many more that reaffirm life’s purpose and intrinsic value. From Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Just), Mernick summarizes, “In order to properly live in the world, we must first understand our purpose, why it is that we were created in the first place (Gift, 52).” Mernick would come across a similar message repeated in different forms, from group speech therapy sessions, to meeting inspirational figures who also dealt with stuttering, and discovering more Torah wisdom.

The book moves quickly and is easy to navigate thanks to the many subchapters focusing on a particular stage in Mernick’s life. The layout is helpful for revisiting certain sections that speak to a reader at a particular moment, and allows the reader to quickly refer back to a previous chapter. One particularly powerful subchapter under “Becoming Happy with Myself” is titled “Freedom from Envy,” where Mernick quotes a section from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book, My Father, My King. Written from the perspective of G-d talking to each of us individually, we are advised to not be fazed by anyone else’s accomplishments, and to serve G-d with the tools He gave us to the best of our best ability. With this awareness, envy should no longer reside in our hearts.

Mernick internalized this message more fully as a counselor at Camp HASC where he worked with individuals with special needs. Being on call 24 hours a day, the counselors had to be ready to put the needs and comforts of the campers before their own. Despite wanting to quit after the first week from the demanding tasks, Mernick had a paradigm shift: in order to succeed at HASC, he needed to ask how he could be of service to his campers, versus focusing on why the task was so difficult.

In the military, we are very familiar with this concept on a daily basis, serving our unit, company, platoon, etc. But on a deeper level, this idea applies to how we can best serve others with our own unique talents, skills, and attributes. If we are in a job or position we don’t particularly enjoy, aside from changing positions, the next best thing is asking ourselves, “How can I best serve in this position given my unique attributes?” This will allow us to find solutions rather than dwell on the negatives of our situation, and could lead to further insight in our own journey.

Understanding the idea of unique purpose conceptually, Mernick now had the practical skills to apply the “how” in his life, despite his stutter. The challenges of stuttering would continue, but as a result of a higher level mindset, he found a way to share his insights and help others who may be experiencing similar struggles, many of which he includes in the book.

Spiritually, he applied this concept to his prayer service as well. Having previously started out with requests, Mernick shifted to begin his prayers by thanking and appreciating G-d for the gifts He has bestowed upon him. Then, Mernick asked for strength and positivity to make the best of his stutter. This was a particularly emotional section and, in my opinion, one of the most powerful, as it helped me create a more empowered attitude with my own prayers.

There are other powerful moments as well, such as Mernick’s opportunity to work as an outreach director for Jewish youth in Europe. At 19 years old, he delivered lectures on Torah, faith, and prayer to young Jews, helping them discover their rich heritage while incorporating insights from his own journey. Included in this period is a touching moment he had while hosting a festive and meaningful Passover seder in Hamburg, Germany for Jewish participants from all over the world.

The book maintains an energetic, zestful tone throughout, and you cannot help but anticipate where one life episode is going to lead next. While stuttering is more outwardly noticed, I imagine that all of us have struggles that we go through, whether external or internal. Overall, I highly recommend The Gift of Stuttering as a way to supercharge your excitement for living with practical tips and spiritual insights. It’s also perfect for a friend or family member who may be dealing with their own struggles, to read about methods Mernick uses to thrive. The ability to tap into your unique resources to best serve others can be the greatest gift, and sometimes it can arise from our most difficult challenges.

Originally published in Shavous 5783 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.