What would you do if you were confronted with a seemingly insoluble problem? Would you give up? Would you say, “Let someone else solve it; it’s beyond me?”
Now think of someone who has won your admiration. This individual is usually someone who was thrust into a challenging situation and was motivated to find a solution. Take a visionary with courage, moral values, determination and faith. Throw in a sense of humor. You will now have an ordinary human being, transformed into an individual capable of facing challenges and accomplishing the extraordinary!
Such was the situation that presented itself to the Gush Etzion community several years ago.
Two dedicated women realized that many children and young adults with special needs in Gush Etzion were not getting the assistance they needed. Some were categorized as retarded, autistic, learning disabled or simply problematic. These two women felt that with the right educational help, some of these individuals could be mainstreamed into the community. Others would need to spend all their school experience in a special environment.
These women undertook to organize a school for this population. The locale was the local Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim. There they began their project. The results were amazing. They created special programs and a school for 40 adolescent boys ranging in age from 10 to 20 years.
The school offers activities that give the students self-confidence and independence. They are taught to contribute − not just to receive. One of the activities is the therapeutic stables. There they are taught how to ride and take care of horses. There is also a small zoo where they learn to feed and care for the animals. They are taught the halachic principle that one feeds and cares for one’s animals before oneself. They milk the goats and make cheese and yogurt. On Fridays, they bake challah and bring it home to their families. These and many more activities give these young people the feeling of being capable of living normal lives under supervision. This is definitely much more than anyone would have expected. The school’s name is Reishit.
When these special students saw other youngsters involved in special plans during the hot summer months, they were dejected. They didn’t have special summer plans. Everyone seemed to be going to a camp but them.
That is where our B’nei Akiva parent came in. She saw a tremendous need for this population to have summer activities. She saw that she could also fill a void in the adolescent community of Gush Etzion and she combined these two elements.
There is a lack of summer activities in Gush Etzion for teenagers, so why not create a camp? Not an ordinary camp, but a very special camp for some very special people.
For the past few years, 50 B’nei Akiva youth have been running a one-week camp for these youngsters. Some of the activities included a visit to the fire department, a visit by soldiers and a performance by a clown who presented a show and donated her time and balloons to the group. Students from the neighboring Mekor Chaim Yeshiva high school came over one day and presented a play. There was also a fun day on the premises where the campers were able to enjoy inflatable playground equipment such as a water slide.
Their physical prowess was tested on some of the climbing, jumping and bouncing equipment. The most exciting trip was to the nearby Eretz Haye’elim Park.
Some of these activities were run by volunteers, but the supplies and other activities had to be paid for. The B’nei Akiva members ran fundraising activities for months in advance to provide for all the things they needed. Many interested individuals and organizations donated funds, equipment and T-shirts.
The end of the camp week left the B’nei Akiva volunteers tired but ecstatic. One had only to look at the campers’ faces to see their happiness and appreciation.
This is an instance of people who recognized community and personal needs. In order to achieve their goals, they used initiative, strength and creativity. Each step of the way was difficult. They persevered and proved that when one does chesed with emunah in Hashem, the results can be effective and genuinely gratifying.
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