“It was You who created my conscience; You fashioned me in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am awesomely, wondrously made; Your work is wonderful; I know it very well.” Psalms 139:13 (The Israel Bible™)
On Thursday, April 19, residents, staff and volunteers from the Jerusalem facility of ALEH, Israel’s network of care for children with severe complex disabilities, flocked to the Machane Ofer military base near Givat Ze’ev to host a special barbecue in celebration of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. But what was intended as an event to honor the dozens of IDF soldiers who volunteer at ALEH throughout the calendar year, turned into a two-way tribute, with the soldiers insisting on partaking in the festivity’s preparation to honor their friends from ALEH. In the end, a simple barbecue became the ideal of disability inclusion.
The festivities included celebratory songs and prayers, dancing, interactive games and delicious food straight from the grill. Instead of celebrating with their families, the ALEH residents and soldiers exemplified national unity by choosing to mark the day together, shattering societal boundaries in the true spirit of the day.
“Yom Haatzmaut could be celebrated in many different ways, but this has been my most meaningful Independence Day yet,” said Itai, the commander at Machane Ofer, as he addressed the crowd. “There is no better way to celebrate than to spend time with the children of ALEH and its special volunteers. ALEH teaches us what it means to be truly happy and how to celebrate as one big and united Israeli family.”
The beautiful display of inclusion was further enhanced by the generosity of the Darkeinu shuttle service. After being turned down by multiple shuttle companies, the ALEH staff and volunteers began to worry that they would not be able to transport the ALEH residents, who are all reliant on wheelchairs and other support equipment, to the event at Machane Ofer. However, when the owner of the Darkeinu shuttle service heard about the nature of the event, he not only waved the holiday surcharge but offered the company’s services entirely free of charge.
After a fun-filled evening with their IDF friends, the ALEH residents, staff and volunteers headed back to Jerusalem in high spirits. All in attendance agreed that it was their favorite Yom Haatzmaut experience to date.
“While there are so many torches lit throughout the country for Independence Day, there are those who light their torches with the fire of unity and love, a fire that cannot be extinguished,” said Rachely Teller, Community Relations Coordinator at ALEH’s Jerusalem facility. “Only in Israel would an event like this result in both sides insisting on honoring the other. Only at ALEH can you see soldiers embracing individuals with complex disabilities, treating them like their own brothers and sisters, and going out of their way to make it the most enjoyable and inclusive experience possible.”
To learn more about ALEH, arrange a site visit in Israel, or donate, please visit www.ALEH.org.