Feb 12, 2009
The children have all been bathed, put into their pajamas and tucked in, the lights have been dimmed, and the staff lowers their speaking tones to a hush. It’s bedtime at ALEH Jerusalem, and yet there is a palpable air of excitement in the air, an undercurrent of anticipation as all the children – from the babies in their cribs to the young teens in their specially reinforced beds – are clearly waiting for something.
And that something soon enters, in a whirlwind of enthusiasm, as a group of students from the nearby Hadar Bais Yaakov Seminary arrive to perform a nightly ritual of putting ALEH’s children to bed ‘just like every other child’.
The seminary students have been playing a central role in helping ALEH be a warm and caring home, where every day begins and ends with inspiration and love. In a chessed program of their own initiative, they have been volunteering their time at ALEH several evenings a week, singing the children to sleep with beautiful Jewish lullabies, a traditional Shema Yisrael, and a personal layla tov (good night).
It is inspiring and heartwarming to see them interact with the disabled children at ALEH, seeing beyond the disabled exteriors to the pure Jewish souls within. Their singing, from the heart, clearly touches a chord with every one of our special children, whose eyes convey how much they appreciate the experience of being put to bed just like every other Jewish child in the world. Some of the ALEH children hum along, and they eagerly await their special visitors every night.
The program was the brainchild of Hadar student Perry Klein. Perry had often seen a billboard for ALEH in New York, and as soon as she arrived in Jerusalem, she set about to find the facility itself, recruiting several of her fellow students to join her. “I was impressed with the dedication of the staff, and saw how much ALEH was a loving home,” says Perry. “I thought each day should also end on a meaningful note, so I came up with the idea of volunteering to help put the kids to sleep.”
While Perry has experience in working with special-needs children, some of her peers had not, and this was their first exposure to the disabled community. “At first I was scared,” says another of the volunteers, “and I didn’t know what to expect. But now I look forward to coming, and I leave on such a high! When the children here smile at me, it means more than words can say. I’m just not the same person I was when
I first came.”
Not only has the program grown internally, with more and more Hadar girls coming in to volunteer, but it has branched out to include students from Me’ohr Bais Yakov, who have been coming in regularly on Tuesday evenings, to continue the tradition.
“I hope their mothers will know about this program,” says one of the students, as she gently strokes a child’s hair. “I hope they know that even if they can’t be here themselves, for whatever reason, their child is going to sleep with a smile on her face.”
On behalf of the staff and children of ALEH Jerusalem, we thank the Hadar and Me’Ohr Bais Yaakov volunteers. Whatever the future holds, the legacy of joy and giving that they have brought to our children will surely carry on.
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