Hidden Gems of Israel

Hidden Gems of Israel

Josh Hantman
Tel Aviv

I made Aliyah just over a year ago having received two degrees in Oriental Studies and Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on Politics from two renowned universities.  I recently worked in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office for a year.   It would be logical therefore that my “inspiration” to write an Israel-related article would be political, geo-political, or at least ideological.  However, what inspired to me write this short piece was nothing short of true “inspiration”.
On being informed of my draft date to the army, I finished my work in the PMO and had a few months Hofesh – vacation.  Whilst working on a news aggregation website (www.olivetreenews.com), I began to volunteer on the side at an ALEH home in Gedera, a small community about 40 minutes south of Tel Aviv.  ALEH has four centers for Israel’s most disabled citizens and it was here where I was to discover the true gems of Israel.
In this particular home, which caters for about 60 of Israel’s most disabled children I was to witness nothing short of heroic social work, committed and devoted careers (who tend to be relatively new immigrants from Ethiopia), and children (and young adults) who – rejected by society – have found their place and purpose in life.
ALEH’s centers cater for over 600 disabled children and adults.  In the center in Gedera, only 3 of the residents have the ability to talk.  Yet despite the difficulty in communication, the younger residents go to school (and graduate) whilst the older residents create wonderful artwork and ceramics, which are then sold, with the proceeds going straight back into the centre.  The residents often have serious Autism, some have Down’s syndrome, others were deprived of oxygen at an early age. You can feel the frustration oozing out of their often completely immobile bodies.  However in these homes, each resident is made to feel wanted, loved and important.
I had an easy job.  I would take the young lads out for coffee or pizza.  We would watch football, chat to the locals in the city center and the coffee shop, and just do ‘normal’ things, outside of the framework of the home.  One particular resident Naor, is the same age as me.  We go out for coffee together, and I see the positive effect he has on the surrounding community.  Everyone stops in the street to talk to him.  With ALEH, the benefit always seems to be mutual.  In fact, I personally probably gained more than they did, as I learned something new, different and – again – truly inspiring, from each and every resident. 
I am in England now for a few weeks before I start my service in the IDF and I wanted to get this message across of what ‘we’ can do; us ‘able-bodied’ members of our community who are not social workers, not trained careers and not nurses.  When visiting Israel next, get in contact and volunteer for a couple of hours, meet these amazing members of Am Yisrael. You can ‘adopt’ a child for the year (financially or through conference calls!), sponsor a Bar Mitzvah, purchase medical equipment of even help to fund special treatments such as animal therapy, communication therapy or hydrotherapy.  The results are nothing short of breathtaking. I don’t work for ALEH, but I have been touched by their work. Whilst money is always welcome, faces are priceless.   Next time you’re in Israel pay an ALEH center a visit and find true inspiration in Israel, just like I did.

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