While the challenges of making aliyah with a special needs child are certainly not to be dismissed, for those who mistakenly believe that this is an automatic reason not to move to Israel, or that Israel can’t possibly have the level of services that America provides, Menachem’s father, Dan, states emphatically and passionately that the exact opposite is true.
The father speaks:
From the outset, I must say that I’ve never lived in the U.S. with a special needs child, so I can’t make comparisons about services here versus there. But I can say, unequivocally and whole-heartedly, that the services provided in Israel are absolutely excellent, and that we’ve always been fully satisfied with the level of care and expertise we’ve encountered.
But beyond that, there are certain significant advantages to raising a special needs child in the Jewish State.
My son lives and breathes Judaism. Even if he’ll never be able to be called up to the Torah, will never learn a daf Gemara or even a pasuk in Chumash, and couldn’t tell you when Shabbos comes out, Judaism is a part of his life in a way that it could never be if we were living in chutz la’Aretz. By the very nature of his disability, his primary education is experiential rather than text-based. Because Menachem lives in Israel, he can feel the ruach in the air and thereby “learn” about Pesach, Purim and Rosh Hashanah; he can go to the Kotel and to Kever Rachel and imbibe the experience of holiness. Living in our Orthodox community means that Shabbos feels different than the rest of the week when we walk outside. And for Menachem, this has the added perk of enabling him to take walks on the quiet streets of our neighborhood, something that is too dangerous for him to do on a weekday, when there is a high risk of him darting in front of an oncoming car.
Living in the Jewish State also means that everything – even public school-based special education programs – runs on a Jewish schedule. The school vacations are for Jewish holidays; no need to worry about expensive respite care for days the children have off but the parents still need to work. The food served is kosher, and the holidays and culture taught is our own. I don’t have to worry about what foreign ideas he might be exposed to while in school.*
And the wonderful thing is that all this is just about free! In America, the cost of a similar Jewish, private special education program can run between $50-100,000 a year. Here, I pay about 2100 NIS ($610), and my son is given an education in a school that is fully staffed, with teachers specially trained for his needs (there are two teachers and often an assistant as well in each class of five children), plus speech therapists, occupational therapists, music therapists and a doctor on staff. Menachem is in a mamlachti dati (national religious) school, which means that they daven every day and learn Jewish-themed lessons. We also receive free transportation to the school, which has long hours (this is specifically the case for children with autism – the school hours for children with other disabilities, such as Downs syndrome, aren’t as long). He gets picked up at 6:50 in the morning, and is home at 5:30 in the afternoon. And his school, like all schools here, is six days a week, and his program runs through the summer, except for a two-week break in August, during which there are both day camps and sleep-away camps available.