Hundreds of teens and women from throughout Israel and the world will converge at Kibbutz Ha’On on May 30 to swim the Kinneret early Friday morning (May 31) in a choice of two routes: 1.9 or 3.9 kilometers. It’s not a race and not a competition but rather a fundraising event for Sadnat Shiluv (literally: Integrative Workshop), located in Gevaot in Gush Etzion.
For the participants, it is a personal challenge and an incredible experience. This year, funds raised are directed towards building an educational complex at Yuvalim, the new elementary school of Sadnat Shiluv, whose mission is to maximize the potential of every student and ensure a continuous flow of young people growing up in the Yishuv. The school currently has 60 students, including 20% with special needs.
“One of the important lessons I learned at an early stage as a parent of a special needs child, which is true for all parents,” says Vivienne Glaser, powerhouse and initiator of Swim4Sadna, “is that you can never decide for someone else what their limits are. We must enable every child to soar beyond our expectations.”
With 28 years of experience as a parent of a special needs child, thanks to her son Elchi, Vivienne is asked a range of questions by parents of special needs children on a weekly basis. Her first response is: “Tell me one thing that you know your child feels success in doing – whether it is cutting up vegetables, reading or running a marathon – whatever it is, start from there!”
When Vivienne heard that the founders of Sadnat Shiluv were opening a first grade class for special needs children 18 years ago, she was inspired by the fact that they understood that the real future is to impact children with a feeling of: “I can do more.” Her family moved from Ma’alot in the north to Gush Etzion so Elchi could join Sadnat Shiluv.
Ten years ago, Vivienne had a dream to swim the Kinneret but the annual swimathon took place on Shabbat. So she planned to rent a boat and swim alongside her husband in the boat. When she shared her dream about the possibility of a swimathon for women on a weekday, which would be a fundraiser for Sadnat Shiluv, the enthusiastic response of her friends and relatives led to the first annual swimathon with 85 participants! After that exhilarating swim, at the concluding ceremony, Vivienne drew a big V in her mind, acknowledging that her dream had come true. However, to her great surprise, women began asking her the unexpected question: “When will the swim be next year?”
Vivienne is hoping that more than 400 women will join the swim this year, including women from England, the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland and even the Chabad Rebbetzin from Turkey, swimming with her sister from Miami, Florida.
Her ultimate goal is that the paradigm created at Sadnat Shiluv in Gevaot of an integrated educational and residential program for those with special needs, from preschool through young adulthood, will be copy/pasted to other locations in Israel and throughout the world. “The most important aspect of the swimathon for me is creating a platform to get people to understand the uniqueness and value of an inclusive community,” she says.
There are 45 typical families living in Gevaot today and eight apartments for young adults with special needs, who receive professional vocational training and work at the various facilities, including a horse stable, petting zoo, bakery, coffee shop, commercial kitchen, ceramics studio, sports center, carpentry shop, basket-weaving studio, and more.
“I look back and I can’t believe what we have achieved,” Vivienne says. “The swim has become a way for as many people as possible to connect with the Sadna.”
Vivienne views every swimmer as an ambassador for Sadnat Shiluv and encourages everyone to visit Sadnat Shiluv with family and friends. Guests will enjoy a sumptuous and healthy breakfast at Café Ba’Hursha, prepared and served by the Sadnat Shiluv residents, both boys and girls (the girls live in Migdal Oz), nestled in a picturesque pine forest in the Judean hills. Gevaot is a five minute ride from Alon Shevut on the road towards Beit Shemesh. The unique coffeehouse is open Friday mornings from 10 am-13:00 and other days of the week by reservation (call Tamar 050-4811098).
Vivienne adds, “Each swimmer – many of whom have overcome or are grappling with personal challenges – represents the values and inspiration of Sadnat Shiluv. Everybody has a place in the community. Everybody contributes. It’s all about acceptance! This is in essence the ripple effect of the swim.”
Registration for the 2019 swim ends soon but it’s not too late to join!