The inspiring reason thousands of people drew dots on their faces
A mom's support for son sparks a campaign of kindness on Facebook.
She thought she had grown accustomed to the stares, the laughter, the strange questions.
Ruthi Gaon's son, Erez, was born with several disabilities, both physical and cognitive. One is a skin disorder called congenital melanocytic nevi. It's a type of birthmark, and in Erez's case, it's all over his body, including his face.
Naturally, Erez's condition drew attention, sometimes unwanted. The Israeli mom taught her son, who's now 8, to ignore it and focus on the positive. That was going pretty well until a week ago, when a woman and her child directed some remarks at Erez that Ruthi says were "just mean." Remarks, she said, that were too harsh for her to repeat.
So Ruthi, who lives in a town in northern Israel, did what many parents in her position nowadays would do: she took to the internet.
"I swear I got used to people staring at you, the comments behind our back," Ruthi wrote in Hebrew on her Facebook page. "But the sad fact is that no matter how much we talk of inclusion and acceptance, the different remain excluded and will always draw attention. 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?"
Her post was accompanied by a series of photos of herself and Erez, both donning marks on their faces. Ruthi's, of course, were drawn with marker.
That post, to her surprise, went viral. It's been liked 67,000 times and shared almost 10,000 times. And it didn't stop there; some people, even complete strangers, started commenting with pictures of themselves with spots drawn on their faces. From there, a hashtag was born: #friendsoferez.
Since that day, hundreds more people have sent selfies and even large group photos demonstrating their solidarity for Erez. Twiigy, a children's entertainer in Israel, joined in the fun.
Inspired by the unexpected viral success of #friendsoferez, the boy's uncle, Moshe Gaon, started a website called Yooocan. It's a global network for people with disabilities and their families to share stories, buy products and "empower one another to do anything." Moshe says he started the site after watching his brother, Erez's father, struggle to find the right ways to care for Erez.
"The problem is that although there are many activities, services and products out there, people don’t know about them," Moshe says on his website. "They are scattered."
But for Erez's mother, Ruthi, the biggest reward was not seeing her post go viral. It goes back to that memorable encounter with the woman and child, and how Erez reacted.
"I swear that at that moment I felt as if I would squash her face (and much more)," Ruthi recalled. "But you just smiled, took my hand and just kept on walking."
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