Weekend Wonders – A SHARED SHABBAT
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 Shabbat sleepover in the heart of Mercaz Shapira – a village community in Israel’s southern district -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 and expense of traveling with wheelchairs, medical equipment and bulky assistive devices, it is important to provide as many residents as possible with normative experiences like this summer camp sleepover extravaganza – outside the home.
It is not an easy task to accommodate the special needs of such a large group, but the Mercaz Shapira community was up to the challenge. For the third consecutive year, families opened their homes to ALEH residents, volunteers and others – including personal aides, medical staff, and technical staff – some 100 in all, and all enjoyed a fantastic weekend filled with love, spirit, singing and dancing.
Mercaz Shapira families hosted the residents and their ‘entourage’, making them feel at home and most welcome. The ALEH children enjoyed a private Friday night meal with their host families, basking in the individual attention. Shabbat afternoon, the host families joined the ALEH visitors in the central dining hall of the yeshiva. And for the third meal, the entire community gathered together with their ALEH visitors, in an atmosphere filled with singing and emotion – just like one united family.
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.
The dedicated volunteers who essentially ran the weekend summer camp – and who took to the streets to raise funding for the experience – have been working 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.
Here are a few video highlights of the fabulous Friday afternoon activities – all planned and run by volunteers! Special treats included a chocolate fountain, pita-making, slush sodas, cotton candy and a moon bounce castle! [note: as filming is forbidden on the Sabbath, we could only capture the camaraderie and wonderful experience until sunset]
It is hard to sum up the experience in words, but it is perhaps best expressed in this letter, written by a parent of an ALEH child who joined the weekend:
To Shlomit, Rachely, and the entire staff,
It was truly a privilege to be part of the Mercaz Shabbat experience. The atmosphere, the organization and planning, the content and the special programs, the warm hospitality – everything was above and beyond. It raised all of our spirits to see our children so happy, smiling and laughing.
We saw so much respect accorded to the children; all the volunteers really gave the sense that they were interacting with our children as real friends, as equals. We all came to this wonderful place to absorb the holiness, to recharge our batteries and give us the strength to carry on…. and to be together – as close as can be.
As parents, we all admired these youngsters who came both to enjoy and to bring joy to others. They made sure throughout the whole Shabbat that no resident lacked anything, at any time.
Everyone was dressed so beautifully, in new clothing, as if for a special event. We heard several Mercaz Shapira residents comment: ‘Wow, what lovely clothes, what a nice dress, shoes – what a pretty girl with such a lovely hairstyle…” When you hear comments like these, the heart is filled with pride and a feeling of worth.
The flute heralding Shabbat warmed our souls, bringing with it a sense of peace and serenity. This was a break from the worries of everyday life, and the chance to really understand that Hashem gave every person in His world a special task, all of his own. A task to give, on the one hand, and to receive, on the other. I don’t know which of these tasks is harder…
From conversations I had with the volunteers, there was consensus that our children were those who give. They give strength and empowerment to the volunteers. We are fortunate to live in this generation, with people such as these…
Thank you so much for the privilege to take part in this experience. For the privilege of seeing that you have the power to grant our children spiritual sustenance as well – as exemplified this weekend.
May Hashem repay your kindness and may you go from strength to strength.
Yael M. (mother of Yochai))
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