I met tony for the first time just a moment before the Hanukkah Camp. His mom called me while we prepared for the torch parade and said she saw the Green Horizons flyer that we handed in his school, Mekif Gimel. He was in 8th grade at the time, and came every day to school for two hours until he got bored and returned home, to everyone's joy the recruitment in that school was in those two hours.
The first activity he attended was a preparation for the trip and immediately after we bought food together for the trip, I saw that he could not read the shopping list that I prepared or the packing list for the trip.
We went to the Hanukkah camp which was challenging and interesting, of course none of the kids knew Tony even though he went to school with them, he just never stayed after the first two hours, whenever he came at all. Every time I spread the map tony tried to read what I read out from the route, but confused the letters or read names that made sense better sense to him.
After the trip I did a few activities, and in some there was a need to read a few lines or words, I noticed that he couldn't, but still tried every time. When I inquired a bit I noticed that he can read English perfectly. About Russian I am not sure but he sure knows a lot about Russian grammar. I decided to ask him and he said he never studied Hebrew in an organized way, and no teacher ever tried to understand his reading level.
To my understanding, this is the reason that he was bored in school and went home – he just didn’t understand what people were talking about. He had learned Russian and English from his mother and television. Tony's mom doesn’t speak Hebrew well and thus she speaks with him mostly in Russian mixed with Hebrew. Her conversations with me are also in Hebrew with a touch of English and Russian.
The next attempt was before the annual navigation competition. I made a huge attempt to advance the group in multiple levels and teach them topographic navigating during a long activity in which we used both an aerial photograph and a topographic map, which we love so much. Tony was amazed by the way he could get a point and reach it by analyzing the map. I felt that suddenly he was dealing with something complex that would force him to test himself. Soon after he started to tackle the maps on our trips, and I saw him attempt to understand what he read on the map.
Many times he asked me or his group members for an explanation of one letter or another, or for some words that he did not understand, but mostly his attempt was independent.
He came to summer camp and during the trip he took it upon himself a few times the privilege of navigating the group while trying to read the names of the places and attractions we visited in the Upper Galilee. One thing led to another and I now two years later, I see the progress he has made. He may not read Hebrew at the speed of an average 10th grader, but his attempt to read from signs, maps and flyers in activities is amazing and touching.
Tony doesn’t go to school. Since nobody noticed until the 8th grade that he couldn't read of write, he never managed to benefit from a school setting. He works as a cook in Ringelblum Café under the supervision of a social worker. He never missed one of our group trips though, and I can count on one hand the number of activities he missed.
If I ask myself what has been the most meaningful activity in Tony's life, undoubtedly it will be the one before the annual navigation competition. That is when the first time it was understood that he cannot explain where he is going without being able to read the legend or the name of the sites.