"You will appreciate every breath you take and have your breath taken away, all at the same time."
Mission trip to Israel 2018 – ALEH Negev by Gary Logerstedt PT
Between March 17th to 30th I traveled to Israel with a small cohort of members from New Hope
Church. We support a facility in the Negev desert through the Jewish National Fund with
bi-annual coin collections. Two years ago we sent a couple of members to tour the facility and
lay the groundwork for an opportunity to serve at this facility called ALEH Negev. Aleh means
leaf in Hebrew. It is Israel’s largest network of care for children with severe multiple disabilities.
Our contributions have helped purchase small animals for their petting zoo, and durable medical
equipment for the children. Look it up online, it’s amazing. ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran
Our main objective was to volunteer at ALEH Negev and make meaningful contacts with our
Israeli friends. The first week was scheduled to meet with our sponsor in Jerusalem and see
some of the sites in and around the area. We just happened to meet the “chief physical
therapist of the state of Israel” the first morning as we rose for breakfast at our BNB. She was
very gracious and introduced us to the rehab director of all four ALEH facilities in the country,
serving the educational, medical and vocational needs of over 700 individuals. Wow, what an
unexpected encounter to start this adventure. Things just continued to elevate as we moved
about our daily schedule. We spent a morning with our primary contact, Dov Hirth, getting a
tour and engaging with staff, children and patients at ALEH Jerusalem. A physical therapist,
Sam welcomed me to observe as he worked with a young girl in the playground area. This
scenario was repeated several more times at the ALEH Negev facility.
However, I was there to serve without any expectation to do any hands-on physical therapy. My
primary contact was in a classroom of 8-9 year-olds with varying disabilities, but all on the
autism-spectrum. All eight children quickly captured my heart as we labored together with
dedicated staff of young ladies to feed, teach, play and maintain a safe environment, on this
very well-appointed campus. Some children were placed in standing frames. Others used
computer pads for learning. One was in a wheelchair. Another wore a padded helmet. Most
were non-verbal, but one called me Abba, which is father in Hebrew, and liked to take walks.
One snatched my glasses off my face as I allowed myself to get too close, but later sat quietly
by my side on the floor against a large pillow. I was “there” to do whatever was asked of me,
because if I wasn’t “there”, these things that I described above, might not have happened. You
see, they rely heavily on volunteers to make things happen. People from all over Israel and the
world give their time to serve at Aleh Negev regardless of affiliation. There are young Arab or
Christian people who opted out of military service volunteering. We met Christians from Holland
and the US serving for extended time-frames of 6-10 weeks. Others from Germany were slated
to arrive and join a young lady, who had been serving for some time already. Our guide
informed us that her family had been part of the Fascist Party in the 1930’s, and she wanted to
make amends for their part in the Holocaust. Amazing stories like this were just a part of the
daily happenings, as distant detonations erupted west of our location near the Gaza Strip.
Although unrest in the area is real, there is a sense of calm, albeit vigilance. None more
poignant than military presence everywhere you turn, security gates and bomb shelter location
signs. The campus is more than a school. It is a rehab center for the southern part of Israel
and residential facility for adults with severe multiple disabilities. Daily vocational activities were
provided with adaptations to allow for maximal independence of tasks. An outdoor
amphitheater overlooked the equestrian corrals and handicap equipped trails accessing the
safari petting zoo. A hydrotherapy pool and therapeutic gardens are all adapted for people with
disabilities to achieve maximal benefit. The village also provides much-needed outpatient
services to up to 12,000 children and adults in the southern region of Israel.
We were honored to have been called to a special meeting with Major General Doron Almog, an
Israeli military hero whose severely disabled son, Eran, was ALEH Negev’s first resident. He
spent the better part of 30 minutes, inspiring us to take the spirit of his son, back to the United
States and use it to serve the “least of these”. ALEH Negev is truly an amazing display of
achievement for the State of Israel. If this little country, the size of the state of New Jersey can
come together for these people with severe disabilities, then we at AIM therapies and CHI
Mercy need to keep fighting for access for all people of Douglas County. The dedication of staff
that I witnessed, at ALEH Negev inspired me to serve each and every patient with an even
deeper devotion. General Almog told us that we were “liberators” for these children and young
adults, just as he acted on behalf of Israeli hostages at Entebbe in 1976 during Operation
We have established great connections on this trip to Israel. Hopefully we can deepen them to
lasting relationships. Ayala, chief physical therapist of the State of Israel and Dr Tzaki Zivner
have extended their desire to see us again in Jerusalem. The staff of ALEH Negev have invited
us back as well. If anyone reading this has any interest of doing anything remotely similar, I
would say go for it and watch your world grow. You will appreciate every breath you take and
have your breath taken away, all at the same time. But most of all, grow where you are planted.
Whether it be in the desert of southern Israel or right here in the heart of Douglas County. Both
are God’s Country. Oregon is for dreamers. Dream large and become a Doer.
Thank you Dov Hirth for featuring us on ALEH’s website.
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