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Aliyah and Keeping Young with Yisrael

After they made Aliyah, Randi discovered she was pregnant with Yisrael, who has Down syndrome.

Yisrael Simcha, age 6

Yisrael Simcha, age 6
Photo Credit: Michael Lipkin

Randi: He is now 6. He has a minor cardiac issue that just needs monitoring—it will never affect his daily life. There was a cardiologist on the case. He had an echo and a second echo before being released. They were very on top of things. We were lucky. There was no NICU stay and his bris [circumcision] was on time. He was assigned a regular pediatrician.

From a therapeutic perspective, here in Israel, things were just amazing, very fast-paced. A lot of special needs programs close in August so they were in a hurry to get him started. At 6 weeks old he had already started at Shalva, actually on the late side, some of the other kids were just 2 weeks old. I never spent a shekel there. The support system Yisrael received as an infant there was unbelievable.

He had physical therapy, massage therapy, speech therapy, sensory integration therapy. He spent time in the Snoezelen room. Each week it was three out of four of those therapies, the staff rotates it so everyone gets what they need. The therapists make a connection to each kid.

Shalva is for kids 0-2 years old. They have the Me & My Mommy early intervention program which supports the children and the mothers, and they don’t exclude dads. They offer support groups for the parents and there’s a social worker on staff. They do their best to let you know what services are available in this country so you can get additional support.

Shalva is only once a week so they want you to be able to get all the support you need. They want to know where to refer you when your child turns two. It’s a lifeline. As brand new parents of a Down syndrome child, you don’t know what services are available and it’s not something you can Google. Being at Shalva means you have the support of the other mothers who are at different places in their experiences and the staff is always there mingling and helping. It’s an amazing place for the time when the child is newborn: when everything is new.

israel in a performance mood (photo credit: courtesy Michael Lipkin)

Yisrael in a performance mood (photo credit: courtesy Michael Lipkin)

V: What therapies does he have? What help do you receive?

Randi: At 8 weeks Yisrael started receiving therapy from the Kupa (HMO). The whole rights thing: I don’t know if it’s only the Meuchedet plan, but I do not pay any co-pay for Yisrael’s therapies. Therapy throughout the first eight years is free. It’s got to be at least 26 shekels [around $7] for treatment but we don’t pay a thing.

Yisrael has had amazing therapists throughout the years. As a therapist and as a mom I have learned so much from them. He received from the Kupa all his therapies at Mercaz Rakefet  in Beit Shemesh and they provide all kinds of therapies: speech, physiotherapy, occupational . . . all sorts of therapies. He even attends a therapeutic sports chug (afterschool program) that he’ll attend for the entire year.

The teacher for the sports chug has a degree from Wingate and specializes in the field. The sports chug is considered emotional therapy and therefore it’s all covered. Mercaz Rakefet has been my go-to place because they run a great program. They teach the kids how to lose, how to win, how to play with other children. When he completes the sports chug, he’ll be able to participate in the regular mainstream sports programs at the local matnas [community center]!

V: How do you see Yisrael’s future in Israel as he develops and grows into adulthood?

Randi: I don’t know where he’s going for Kita Alef [first grade]. I haven’t explored it going that far forward. But he goes into first grade next year. Educationally and academically I don’t know where he’ll be but I stand behind the idea that he is just getting the best possible education available here or in America. It’s Torani [National Religious].

The Irya Gan [city-sponsored nursery school] here in Beit Shemesh comes under the umbrella of Chinuch Meuchad [special education]. The class is small, just 8 kids with 3 staff members. The kids are not mainstreamed per say, but Yisrael does get some mainstreaming at the Gan [nursery] next door.

About the Author: Blogger and mother of 12 Varda Meyers Epstein is a third-generation Pittsburgher who made aliyah at age 18 and never looked back. A proud settler who lives in the biblical Judean heartland, Varda serves as the communications writer for the nonprofit car donation program, Kars for Kids.


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8 Responses to “Aliyah and Keeping Young with Yisrael”

  1. Great article about a great family. Yisrael is one lucky dude.

  2. Wow. What a touching, wonderful story. You are such a sympathetic interviewer. Little Yisrael looks like my nephew when he was little. I'm sending this to my cousin, who has a child with Downs Syndrome.

  3. Malky Storch says:

    Yisroel is famous! I love that kid!

  4. What a kick it is for me to read about Michael, Randi, and have Varda writing the article, having known you in previous lives. it is a tremendous inspiration , and a Kiddush Hashem to see how you have dealt with with everything, I agree with you that it is not proper to say that G-d always puts special children in the place where they need to be. But , he did in Yisrael's case.

  5. Cherie Lewis says:

    Mazal Tov on your beautiful child!

  6. Thanks, Robert. I kind of just let people talk. It's fun.

  7. That's COOL. Lenny. It seems like the Lipkins and I have lots of mutual friends.

  8. Just look at that gorgeous, delicious, yummy face! What a blessing this little boy is. Thank you for a great article. This made my day.

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