By Sarah Coleman on February 1, 2011
A few sentences are not enough to summarize my experience on the Ramah/JNF trip, nor is one trip to Israel a complete picture of this beautiful country. This trip was truly eye opening and helped me to see Israel in a new light. My past few trips have been more touristy; I merely touched the surface and experienced the “Kodak moments.” This time, I saw Israel as an intricate, multi-faceted country with an expansive network and community. Israel is one of the most culturally diverse, technologically advanced, spiritual and politically controversial countries in the world. It is also founded upon a few key Jewish values–like g’milut chasadim, tikkun olam, chesed, ahava and kehilah–that can be seen in everyday practices and programs.
The most profound and moving experience of the weeklong community service trip was at Aleh Negev, a state-of-the-art rehabilitation and vocational training center for Israelis with a wide array of special needs. Over 100 people live there and are helped every day. Aleh Negev accepts people of all ages, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. It is predominately funded by the Israeli government and outside fundraising. None of the residents have to pay for their stay and the facility is better than any private institution in America.
There is such a sense of community at Aleh Negev. The employees are so kindhearted and generous with their patience and concern for the residents. One specific program, hydrotherapy, brings residents and physical therapists together in a state-of-the-art pool, where people who are confined to a wheelchair miraculously learn to walk in water thanks to gravity and the laws of physics. I had the chance to witness the residents’ smiles and see their progress. We played games, laughed, and worked on their motor skills.
Aleh Negev also has a kindergarten for mainstream children from the community where higher-functioning young residents spend part of the school day This integration teaches the children from an early age about respecting others and embracing adversity.
I am so happy to have found out about Aleh Negev. This unbelievable experience showed me an aspect of Israeli culture that I had never been exposed to. My hopes are to build a bridge between Aleh Negev and the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah New England, an unparalleled program for campers with special needs. The camp puts a lot of effort into integrating the Tikvah campers with the other campers. Both the campers and counselors benefit from these interactions; we love and respect people very different than us and are so fortunate to have this outstanding program.
Perhaps we can learn from techniques used at Aleh Negev, or teach our campers about other people in the world striving to live by the same values of chesed and kehilah. Aleh comes from the Hebrew root meaning to raise/go up, while Ramah means heights. It is fitting that both organizations elevate our connection and experience as Jews.
I strongly encourage other Ramah counselors to go on this inspiring trip. It really will change your view of Judaism and the importance and strength of our values worldwide.
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