Back in July 2002 I wrote an article for The Jewish Press about Shalva, the center for mentally and physically challenged children. I called the article “Lucky Children,” and I wrote it after taking a tour of what was then Shalva’s new state-of-the-art building, Bet Nachshon, in Har Nof, Jerusalem.
A lot of thought and planning went into that building, from the Disney murals on the walls to the toy room to the music therapy rooms and the therapy pool and so much more, all to give children the best possible experience on a daily basis.
After the initial shock and sorrow parents experience upon the birth of a less than “perfect” child, the family is faced with a challenge that can seem insurmountable. If left without any outside intervention, the family can even be destroyed, God forbid, since the special-needs child can monopolize the family’s attention, practically to the exclusion of all others.
Shalva founders Kalman and Malki Samuels understood that these children and their families deserved so much more than was available. In 1990, thanks to Herculean efforts, Shalva opened its doors and became a real lifesaver for parents and special needs children.
School-age children who attend school daily until 1 p.m. are taken directly from school to Shalva, where they spend the afternoon engaged in play and therapy. They are served dinner and are then driven home, unless it is their turn for the once-a-week sleepover.
Aside from the tremendous benefits these children derive, it is a godsend to their parents, who can focus on the rest of the family for a few hours and take care of chores.
The Mommy and Me program provides infants from birth to 18 months with immediate intervention and the advantage of cutting-edge equipment while the moms bond with each other and with their babies.
When I saw the beautiful building and all the love and effort that had been invested in the Shalva children, my first thought was: “What lucky children.” Then I stopped myself. Was I really calling these children lucky?
The answer was yes. We cannot control what Hashem sends our way but doing everything we can to improve the quality of life for special-needs children makes those children fortunate indeed.
Shalva and Kalman and Malki Samuels have won awards in Israel for the spectacular job they are doing. Never one to rest on his laurels, however, Kalman has always dreamed of bigger and better. How many more families could they help with a bigger facility? How much more could they give to the children with more space?
Fast-forward 12 years. With the help of the Almighty and some generous donors, a huge complex is now being built in the heart of Jerusalem. Construction is scheduled to be completed later this year. The Jerusalem municipality chose a large piece of land for Shalva to be the welcoming face of Israel’s capital.
Kalman Samuels gave me a tour of the 11-floor structure, and as he spoke it came alive for me. I could picture the huge pools, the hydrotherapy pool, the lap pools. I saw the area slated to be an auditorium for shows put on by the children and for an orchestra made up of Shalva children. As is obvious from the artist’s rendition of the completed building, it will truly be one of a kind.
This year Shalva has become personal for me, as my granddaughter Elisheva Schwartz from Ginot Shomron is doing her national service (Sherut LeUmi) at Shalva.
Elisheva is passionate about her work with Shalva’s children. “I love them, Savta, they are so special,” she tells me as she shows me picture after picture on her cell phone of “her” children.