When no one would take Zack Pollak on a trip to Israel, Yachad was there. He, along with 75 other Yachad members and high school students, left last Sunday afternoon for five weeks in Israel on the Yachad summer program Yad B’Yad (YBY – “Hand in hand”).
Special arrangements were made for Zack, who has quadriplegia caused by cerebral palsy. Zack is restricted to mostly a wheelchair or a similar device. As a member of Senior Yachad, the 17-year-old from Passaic, NJ, often participates in Yachad Shabbatonim.
Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), an agency of the Orthodox Union, is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the opportunities of individuals with disabilities, ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life. Yachad/NJCD promotes Inclusion for these individuals through various integrated activities.
The Yad B’Yad Israel Experience brings high school students together with Yachad members (adults and teens with special needs) to experience the Jewish homeland, Israel, in a new and unparalleled way. Yachad members experience Israel just as their peers do – touring Jerusalem; visiting an Israeli army base, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea; riding camels; hiking up Masada; volunteering in a soup kitchen and visiting underprivileged children; and participating in special Shabbat programs.
Yachad has already spent close to $10,000 on top of the normal cost to make the trip accessible specifically for Zack, noted Eli Hagler, Assistant Director of Yachad.
Hagler stated, “Because Zack needed a wheelchair accessible program, other trips and programs have not been willing to take the necessary steps. It’s a big undertaking. Zack is a very social teenager, but has often been placed in settings and camps where he socialized with the staff – Yad B’Yad will be so much more than that for him. On YBY, Yachad has arranged for Zack a way to socialize and fully participate with 75 of his peers. Yachad sees the added benefit to both the participant and the rest of the group in making this trip accessible to anyone who wants to attend. Yachad’s tagline, Because Everyone Belongs, could not be more true than in this case. We did what we had to do in order to make Yad B’Yad a trip that anyone and everyone could enjoy.”
To accommodate Zack’s full participation, Yachad ordered a van to hold his wheelchair and other supplies while he traveled on one of two group buses; coordinated only tour routes that were wheelchair accessible; arranged to stay only at hotels and visiting sites that were wheelchair accessible; brought along adaptive equipment such as a special wheelchair designed to help Zack travel on rockier, narrower, and more challenging terrain.
Yachad raised funds for the special chair with Yad Sarah, an Israeli nonprofit that provides a range of services for free or nominal charge to assist the sick, disabled, and elderly. Similarly, this type of wheelchair is what Team Yachad uses in both the Miami and Jerusalem marathons to allow those with a disability to compete in the race.
Last week, Yad B’Yad staff and high school participants received orientations for the program. A special Shabbaton was held in West Orange, NJ, for YBY participants prior to the Sunday afternoon flight.
Rebecca Schrag, Director of Senior Yachad and of Yad B’Yad, said, “Zack has an awesome ‘can do’ attitude, and we are thrilled that he is able to join us this summer. Yachad has really made every attempt to be as accommodating as possible and to make this trip a life changing experience for Zack, as well as all of the other participants.”