The humidity hit us as soon as we left the air-conditioned terminal at Ben Gurion airport; the hot sticky welcome reminding us that despite the palm trees and sunny skies, we weren’t in Southern California anymore. We are here, in Eretz Yisrael for an incredible seven-day Special Needs Study Mission to explore some of Israel’s innovative programs for adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities, sponsored by the LA Jewish Federation. Our flights had a mix of American and Israelis, with the Israeli kids running around in circles in the aisles in their “footy pajamas” and macho-looking Israeli guys wearing fuzzy socks with polka dots to be comfy during the 9 hour flight from New Jersey to Tel Aviv . Our first five-hour flight from LAX to Newark was over-crowded and late. Watching the movie, “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” was the only redeeming aspect of that trip.
I tried to speak my limited Hebrew to the Sherut (shuttle driver) and at first heard myself speaking Spanish before switching over to Hebrew. Despite my really bad accent, he persisted in asking me questions about where the hotel was, and I managed to spit out a sentence. It feels strange for me to be in Israel without the rest of the family, as my past three visits to Israel have focused so much on finding accessible routes and locations for our son Danny, who has physical and developmental disabilities. But thanks to Camp Ramah of California’s Tikvah program, he will be happily enjoying the next few weeks in Ojai, California while I am away on this Mission, and my husband joins us early next week. We’ve got a nutsy schedule, visiting some 13 separate sites, plus a conference with local experts and parents on Monday.
But for now, we get to start off slowly, with a Shabbat service on the beach led by Rabbi Jackie Redner, the Rabbi in Residence and Chaplain for Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, and then enjoy a group dinner tonight on the roof of the hotel. Tomorrow we have a morning discussion among the 32 participants, sharing our motivations for joining this mission, and our expectations for the week ahead. And then, we take off at the ungodly-hour of 7:15 am on Sunday (the first day of the work week in Israel) to drive up north, where we will visit Kibbutz Harduf, with its “community within a community” of 65 adults with developmental disabilities who live among the typical Kibbutz residents and participate in its social and cultural life, with various work assignments. We will also visit Kishorit, near Karmiel, a community of 140 members, staff and volunteers of adults with developmental disabilities.
Follow along with this on this blog and also through the LA Jewish Federation blog here.