In celebration of Chanukah, the Colel Chabad charitable organization has announced increased investment in a program to bring holiday joy to severely physically and mentally handicapped youth. The effort is intended to reach over 2,500 children in centers all over the country. Spokesperson Yitzchak Marton says the organization has found that aside from Colel Chabad’s regular visits and toy distribution program for sick and injured children at the larger hospitals, far less attention is being paid to severely disabled children. Many are confined to long-term care facilities, he added.
“The reality is that these children, many of whom are facing disabilities that in all likelihood will remain with them for life, are living in a sense of darkness not unlike the spiritual darkness which Chanukah is intended to combat,” Marton says. “Our goal in this program was to create an organized and respectful manner to ensure that these children aren’t being forgotten and that they too are given the chance to enjoy the holiday experience. “ Fully recognizing that working with this community can often be emotionally challenging, volunteers who are studying special education and are comfortable interacting with children are being specifically recruited for this purpose, he says.
The program includes a gift-giving component, with the Colel Chabad working directly with representatives from the institutions to purchase gifts that will be appropriate and appreciated by these children. Special holiday activities are also planned, tailored to the special needs of those in attendance. “There is no denying that interacting with these children can be taxing and even disheartening for many people, which is why it is understandable that they don’t receive the same attention as the more ‘mainstream’ patient community,” Marton says. “But when we give these children attention and show them that they haven’t been forgotten, it is immediately clear that they feel appreciated and that they truly understand that Chanukah is a time of joy and light.” The children who are benefitting from this year’s program struggle with many different challenges, ranging from those born with severe developmental delays to others who were victims of serious injuries that left them immobile or permanently brain damaged.
“These children take us far out of our comfort zones and force us to confront the painful realities existing within the disabled community,” said Rabbi Sholom Duchman, International Director of Colel Chabad. “But our message is that Chanukah deserves to be enjoyed by all and they are no exception.”