I hope I am not wrong about this, but I like to think and believe that most in our community are at least somewhat aware of the special work of Yachad and what it has done for decades—and continues to do—for our community’s children, teens, siblings and adults with disabilities. For myself and our family, our connection to Yachad is quite deep...and goes back over three decades ago to when my younger brother, Boruch, born with Down syndrome, started attending Yachad shabbatonim throughout the tri-state area. Even then, I saw firsthand the tremendous respite these weekends provided for my parents and our family and other families like ours.
Only later on, in my early 20s as a volunteer Yachad adviser, did I also realize the tremendous impact of Yachad on the many communities and shuls that hosted Yachad shabbatonim and events. As I traveled around the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area for Yachad weekends and helped communities run and host Yachad events, I began to realize how critical these programs were—and still are—to changing how we, as individuals and communities, perceive and relate to people with disabilities in our midst. I believe that for many, these interactions with Yachad members and staff were life-changing, and community-changing as well.
On these shabbatonim, Yachad members delivered divrei Torah, davened from the amud sometimes, danced together with local students and shared homes and Shabbos meals with community members. Yachad gave our growing Jewish communities a chance to experience firsthand how special and unique these individuals are, and perhaps most importantly, to understand that they are not to be seen as different or people to be afraid of, but rather as regular human beings with similar interests and experiences, albeit with a disability.
As I got older, got married and became a parent, I reconnected with Yachad again. My wife and I sent our son to Yachad’s wonderful summer program at Camp Nesher for his first sleepaway summer camp experiences, and he spent three excellent summers there. We enjoyed our time with him away at camp and we felt certain that he was well cared for.
Four summers ago, we also sent our daughter on Yachad’s incredible Yad B’Yad Israel summer program, and despite her already having experience with disabilities via her brother, she had probably one of the best summers of her life as she befriended and toured Israel together with her new Yachad friends. Her summer in Israel taught her about inclusion in a way she had never seen before, and I am sure she and her friends will never forget it.
Today, Yachad has so many types of summer programs and in so many locations, ranging from vocational programs to Birthright, that I can’t even begin to list them all here and I won’t try...but it’s clear to all that Yachad’s summer programs continue to touch and impact literally thousands each and every summer. Kein yirbu, I say.
Our son has been going on Yachad shabbatonim for years now. We appreciate the respite time and we know that he loves being in so many different shuls and communities and interacting with his advisers and the many friends he has made over the years in so many places.
But perhaps most life-changing for us locally has been the founding last year of the Mendel Balk Yachad Adult Community Center located at Heichal HaTorah/Jewish Center of Teaneck. With this new program, which we have covered and written about in The Jewish Link, our son no longer sits at home most weeknights after school. He now has a place to go for two evenings each week, where he socializes to the best of his ability and participates in activities designed to help him grow and become as independent as he can be.
This program has changed our weeknight family schedule and routine immeasurably and positively, as my wife specifically (I am usually not home until pretty late) can now focus on our other children and also leave the house more easily when our son is at the Mendel Balk Center, as we call it.
As I said, our connections and relationship with Yachad run deep and true and stay strong until this day. Our family owes so much to Yachad and we are proud of all our many and lasting connections to it.
With this in mind, I ask directly and personally for all of our Jewish Link readership and community to consider joining my wife and me on Motzei Shabbos, Nov. 18, at Cong. Keter Torah at 8 p.m. for a gala melava malka and to support New Jersey Yachad and honor our friends Ari and Deena Katz, Scott and Shira Sheps, and the Tsadok family, Shlomo, Debbie and Avi (by the way, Avi, via Yachad, is a former employee of The Jewish Link of New Jersey and we love him and his family).
We hope you will be able to be there that night to celebrate and help raise money for Yachad together with us, and if you can’t, please go to the website: www.yachad.org/NJGALA2017 to make a donation.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer, JLNJ Co-Publisher