ALEH – The Little Leaf
The following article appeared in Sheindel Weinbach’s weekly column “Lite from Yerushalayim” in the October 21, 2010 edition of HAMODIA – Oct 21, 2010
By Sheindel Weinbach
The story goes that the Baal Shem Tov was once walking with a disciple who had a difficult time understanding how every tiny event in this world has a purpose. Just then a gust of wind blew a leaf to the ground. “And that, too?” the chassid asked. The Baal Shem Tov nodded wisely and motioned to him to pick up the leaf. Underneath lay a worm which had been in the blazing sunshine a moment before.
Hashem had sent the wind to dislodge the leaf in order to protect the helpless worm…
“ALEH” is the Hebrew for leaf, but it is also the ebreacronym for Ayzer Layeled Hameyuchad (Caring for Special Children). The motif on its logo is a slender leaf surrounded protectively by two delicate hands.
The 71 full time residents of the facility I visited in Romema are the most vulnerable children I have ever seen. Most of them are so totally handicapped that they cannot communicate verbally, walk unassisted, or even eat – assisted or otherwise – and must be sustained through feeding tubes inserted in their abdomen.
I couldn’t help being impressed by the ALEH brochure I got last week in the mail. I’ve been getting them periodically, and sending a small check, but this time, I wanted to visit. The above story leaped to my mind. I set up an appointment and was eagerly welcomed the next day.
The ALEH children will probably never leave the facility until adulthood, but against all odds, they may progress to walking, eating, computer skills and even learn to `play music’ in its Therapeutic Music Garden. How? Through instruments that are easily accessible to residents from a variety of positions because “we believe every child should have a chance to hear music, be dressed and sit in a wheelchair, as opposed to lying in a crib all day. `No’ is not an answer, says the director of ALEH.” `How’ is the question and the answer. Quality of life is the means and the end.
I could keep on quoting from the impressive brochure. I might convince you to send a modest check as well, but I want the reader to feel the place. Chances are you may visit Eretz Yisrael some time this year or have a child studying here. Visiting or volunteering will surely be a broadening experience. As for the ALEH children, your smile will be like water and sunshine to a leaf.
Outside, the three story ALEH building is all but hidden by the grey concrete Romema industrial center, with a Toyota showroom beyond and a commercial garage behind. Inside, it’s a surprisingly cheerful, bustling place.
Ground floor: Classrooms! Even children who cannot communicate verbally, deserve to
expand their horizons. The first specially equipped classroom is school to Liron, Zusha, Chezki and three other residents. A population mix. The spacious, lively and cheerful ground floor also houses offices, a huge aquarium, a bevy of volunteers, visitors and staff members doing their thing even during naptime. Orange Communications has dedicated a room equipped with touch screens, adaptive software and an online service that connects residents to their families in real time.
Rabbi of the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, a frequent visitor at ALEH, has just brought in a group of three young sisters and their parents, visiting from the States. The bat-mitzvah girl has paired herself with a handicapped girl her age, via mail, and is meeting her in person for the first time. Ariel Schwartz recently shared his bar mitzvah at the Kotel with Chen Ron, who suffers from severe disabilities, including autism. When “Ariel handed the Torah to Chen, who was wrapped up in a tallis, Chen’s expression and joyous response made it evident that his spirit was aware of the momentousness of the occasion.”
I can’t help realizing that this is a predominantly frum place, from the overall impression of staff and volunteers. Snoozetime over, I meet Yehudis wheeling a girl to her classroom for afternoon activity. Dov Hirth, PR staff member and my enthusiastic guide, introduces this British Bais Yaakov girl here on a two week visit. Yehudis called up ALEH to ask if she could put in some volunteer time before going home to begin her seminary year, and they make a slot for her. She immediately connected to her charge, as I see from their broad smiles.
I meet Sarah, an English teacher in Neveh Yaakov who has been trained on premises to administer physiotherapy with special equipment – in her spare time. It is grueling work, mechanically hoisting her teenage charge to the correct position and rolling her over a plastic log. But both seem to benefit, seeing the improvement in the patient’s breathing, and from the fact that Sarah is here almost every day…
Would I recommend ALEH as a possible place for volunteer work for my own granddaughters? Definitely. It is a magnet for girls from abroad as an alternative to the recommended weekly chessed slot of helping families. Dov tells me of a program recently incorporated, the brainstorm of a foreign B.Y. student which they call `Sweet Dreams’. After the ALEH children have been bathed, pajama-ed and the lights dimmed, a group of students come nightly to say Shema with them, tell them stories and sing to them, simulating a warm personalized home atmosphere and putting children to sleep with a happy smile on their faces.
Somehow, the warm and happy ambience at ALEH draws volunteers. Tami, a certified social worker, accepts volunteers on a steady basis after they undergo a three hour training course. Aside from coming on a regular basis, they might pop in on a Shabbos afternoon, during chagim, to help out on family day or on special outings when children are taken to parks — wheelchairs, IV poles and all — for structured fun with music and clowns etc. geared to their handicaps.
We come to the second floor, alive in bright colors, mobiles, murals. It’s the residential floor, mostly babies, three to a room. They’re sleeping, but baby Shifra gives me the most delicious smile. She and her cousin in the other bed, both under a year, have a genetic disease, Tay Sachs, and cannot be cared for at home, but this home is home away from home. I bet Shifra charms all the volunteers. Here we also have a family room with games and snacks so that siblings can spend time with their handicapped sister/brother without getting too restless.
The third floor has recently been built to serve as a High Dependency Hospital Wing for disabled children with complex medical conditions. Say a child is prone to pneumonia and has to be hospitalized in a strange environment, hardly conducive to recuperation. If he can receive hospital care on ALEH premises, he will be surrounded with the familiar love he needs so much more now.
Back down to the ground floor where I get a general briefing about ALEH’s four main branches.(The Romema branch provides 32,000 outpatient services annually that benefit special-needs kids throughout Israel.) Then there are the, plans for the future including a therapeutic swimming pool etc.
Of course, you can read the brochure, but I urge people to put this exciting place on their itinerary, as visitors or volunteers. It’s a happy, thriving, very positive and friendly place, where they’ll be more than happy to welcome you and give you a very meaningful experience. 1.866.717.0252 (from the USA) or +972. 2.501.1116 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a very prompt reply.
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