A COLUMBUS FAMILY ENJOYS A VERY SPECIAL WEEKEND AT THE ORTHODOX UNION’S YACHAD FAMILY SHABBATON
By Joni Schottenstein
From left Gila and Gabriella with their mother, Joni
Megabus. That is where the weekend of a lifetime began. As Gila, Gabriela and I sat down on the second story of Megabus for our six and a half-hour trip from Columbus, OH to Chicago, we were all giddy and nervous with anticipation of the impact our first Hartman Family Yachad Midwest Family Shabbaton would have on each of us as individuals as well as a family unit. Gila, my Yachad frequent flyer, was the all-knowing expert who was going to spend the weekend with her New York advisors and fellow Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integration friends singing, dancing, and having fun. Gila also knows that Yachad is the place where she is accepted completely, like all other children and adults with “special needs.”
I was excited to be able to meet and network with other parents and families who have children with special needs. Gabriela was unsure of what to expect and was quite anxious. “I won’t know anyone,” “What if I don’t make friends” and “Can I please take my best friend with me,” were just some of the comments that were thrown around our house for the few weeks prior to the trip. The reality of the weekend was far more impacting and amazing than all three of us could have imagined.
Davening was the first of many fabulous experiences throughout the weekend. It was so incredible to be a part of a Shabbat davening that felt like a family of 300 coming together to share a weekend of acceptance, love and respect for ALL. The Dvar Torah’s by both the Yachad participants as well as the teen volunteers were enlightening and equally amazing in both their meanings as well as how they were received. Meeting other parents with children who had similar needs to Gila’s was invaluable. The support and friendships from other parents as well as the knowledge learned in the sessions I participated in give me a sense of strength and serenity in my life. I was amazed to think of all of the different needs in the room yet no one seemed to notice any differences. One hundred percent acceptance of all.
Gila was the happiest I have seen her in a long time. She spent the weekend with her old and new-found friends doing activities, singing, dancing and feeling accepted and at home by all. The teen volunteers and advisors both feel and treat Gila and her peers as indeed their own friends. Again, total acceptance. For Gabriela, the new friends she made at the Shabbaton have a complete understanding of what it is like to live with and support your sibling with special needs. The sibling support groups taught Gabriela tools on how to positively navigate through society’s unfair views of people with special needs.
The Shabbaton was organized, well-planned and the facilitators/speakers were articulate and knowledgeable. Efrem Popel, Chapter Coordinator of Chicago Yachad and Zahava Gutstein, Program Assistant for Chicago Senior Yachad, worked tirelessly on planning and presenting the weekend and their efforts definitely paid off. Saturday night at the Question and Answer session with Efrem, as well with National Yachad Director Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman and Assistant Director Dr. Joe Goldfarb, families were able to express positive feedback from the weekend as well as from other Yachad programs, and discussions were held on ways to expand and improve programming and support. It was very obvious to all in attendance that the three of them as representatives of Yachad care and are willing to go the extra distance in making Yachad all it can be.
Gila, Gabriela and I agreed that the weekend went by much too fast. We wanted the minutes to slow down and the weekend to last longer. We all look forward to more Yachad Family Shabbatons and will continue to reach out and stay in touch with our new-found friends and Yachad family. Gabriela summed up what the weekend meant to her on Saturday night when she stated, “Mom, this has been a life- changing weekend for me. I am so glad we were there.”
Again, thank you to all who made the weekend so amazing. Yachad has given our family connection and support that are invaluable to each of us!
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