Aug 27, 2012

It took months of planning, scores of dedicated volunteers, a host of families and the warm hospitality of an entire community, but the results surpassed all expectations!   ALEH’s weekend summer camp at Mercaz Shapira proved to be a fabulous success, and all involved are still talking about it!

At ALEH, we believe that every child, regardless of degree of disability, deserves to be exposed to all sorts of adventures and experiences – just like any child their age. That is why, despite the logistical difficulties of traveling with wheelchairs, medical equipment and bulky assistive devices, and the expense inherent in arranging to leave the facility for an extended period of time, we decided that to provide as many residents as possible with a summer camp sleepover extravaganza – outside the facility, in an environment specially suited for their special needs.

This was the first time that ALEH arranged a Shabbat on such a large scale and a great deal of trepidation was mixed with anticipation as the time approached.  A group of 25 ALEH children and 60 volunteers – including personal aides, medical staff, and technical staff – set out to participate in this unique, first-ever Shabbat overnight experience, hosted by Mercaz Shapira, a village community in Israel’s southern district.

The dedicated volunteers who essentially ran the weekend summer camp have been with the ALEH residents throughout the year.  They know ‘their’ child very well, and they were on hand every moment of the Shabbat to make sure that the children’s physical and emotional needs were met throughout the weekend.

Mercaz Shapira families hosted the residents and their ‘entourage’, making them feel at home and most welcome.  The ALEH children had one meal with their host families and one meal in the central dining hall of the yeshiva.  For the third meal, the ALEH residents, staff, volunteers, youth and families from Mercaz Shapira all joined up, in an unbelievable atmosphere, filled with singing and emotion – just like one united family.  In the words of one participant:  “When we all sang together around the tables late Shabbat afternoon, it was hard to discern a difference between guests, hosts and volunteers, since all shared the same spirit.

Most of the costs for the weekend summer camp were subsidized by the volunteers and some donations were made by generous local businessmen.  Even people from overseas stepped in to help:  a visiting JLE group of UK students took to the streets to raise money for this special cause!  Our heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of them for their help.  We could not have done it without you!  We also extend sincere gratitude to Mercaz Shapira and the Or Etzion Hesder yeshiva, whose members gave so much to make the Shabbat a meaningful experience and create a warm, caring, welcoming family atmosphere.

The songs and dance, the varied activities, the soulful prayers, delicious meals, the tour of Mercaz Shapira – and the many hugs and kisses all added up to an unforgettable experience.  This weekend opened the children up to a new experience, widening their circle of friends and strengthening their spirit.  The residents who took part are still reliving the excitement and energy that was part of the weekend.

It is hard to sum up the experience in words, but it is perhaps best expressed by Tehilla Hallel – a dedicated volunteer who has been at ALEH for four years.  Tehilla, who began volunteering when she was in 9th grade after her cousin Eva was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was part of the planning  and the pre-Shabbat organization, every step of the way. Read her personal notes on the very special Shabbat


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