Sep 10, 2009
Naomi Klass Mauer with her grandson
By: Naomi Klass Mauer – Editor, Jewish Press
The following article appeared in the Sep 2, 2009 issue of The Jewish Press, America’s Largest Independent Jewish Weekly
There is a very special place in Jerusalem many people have heard of – but how many really know the magnitude of its work? In fact, ALEH is often confused with another facility with a similar sounding name. But ALEH stands alone in its class. Unlike other places, ALEH accepts children who have no chance of rehabilitation, and all the children receive the same loving care.
I recently toured the Jerusalem branch of ALEH where I have a little grandson (whom many of you have prayed for) and I was astounded at the treatment and care and avodas Hashem (G-d’s work) that takes place there.
The children in ALEH are profoundly disabled – some as the result of cerebral palsy, some because of a genetic birth defect and some who were born healthy and developed normally until a traumatic event caused serious damage (as in the case of my little grandson).
ALEH works under the principle that every child, no matter the severity of his disability, deserves as normal a childhood as possible. As an example of this philosophy, 20 children were recently taken to the beach where they felt the sand underneath them and the sea breeze on their faces for the first time. The children’s faces showed an awareness of the different stimuli. It was very rewarding to see, especially as it involved a lot of planning and hard work. But that is nothing for the staff and volunteers of ALEH.
“We believe every child should have a chance to hear music, to be dressed and to sit in a wheelchair, as opposed to lying in a crib all day,” said Shlomit Grayevsky, the director and administrator in charge of ALEH Jerusalem.
“But it takes a lot of staff,” she continued. “We have six Sherut Leumi (national service) girls and close to 200 volunteers. But ‘NO’ is not an answer here. ‘HOW’ is an answer.”
How indeed, I wondered. How do they run a school? How do they get the 72 children who live there up and dressed and fed and then in school from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.? They not only do it, they do it with love and devotion.
In the afternoon the children take a one-hour nap and then come down to a music program; some go to a snoezelen room; some to a dark room with revolving colored lights. I was told my 4-year-old grandson responds very well to the lights in this room.
Earlier I mentioned that ALEH accepts children who have no chance of rehabilitation. Thanks to ALEH’s amazing work, however, many children have progressed far beyond what was ever believed possible and certainly beyond the medical prognosis.
The morning of my tour, I found my little one in the 4-year-old nursery group. My daughter-in-law Julie, who had accompanied me, brought him a present of a little blue ball. With a one-on-one presence of teacher to child, everyone held a youngster (Julie asked to hold Elyair) and the ball was passed from child to child to the accompaniment of a made-up song about Elyair receiving a new ball. Those children who could pass the ball on their own did so; otherwise the teacher gently moved it into the hands of the next child.
ALEH is an acronym for Ayzer Layeled Hameyuchad (Help for Special Children). But ALEH goes way beyond help, giving children as much of a life as they can possibly have. ALEH has four locations in Israel. The ALEH in Bnei Brak has 100 live-in children and another 150 in day care. ALEH in Gedera has live-in teenagers and ALEH in the Negev has children past the age of 21.
When we visited ALEH Jerusalem, a great deal of construction was underway to accommodate the
growing need. We spoke to an older woman volunteer. She comes every day and works with a one-year old girl. She was taking such pride in the child’s every move that I thought she was her grandmother. I was surprised to learn she was a dedicated volunteer and not in any way related to the little girl. She expressed surprise at my surprise. She told me she loved this little girl as if she were her very own family.
I wanted to thank her. I wanted to thank every one of those who devote themselves to these children. I wanted to tell them that we, the families and Klal Yisrael, can never thank them enough for all they do for these holy souls.
Since I cannot thank each one personally, I am expressing my gratitude publicly here – and I suggest a visit to ALEH Jerusalem on your next trip to Israel. Some of the children will smile at you and some may even put out their hand to you. You will come away inspired and you will thank Hashem for all of His chesed.
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