Yachad Bachutz—a summer program set on a farm in Upstate New York—is a perfect haven for teenage boys. Throughout the summer, boys helped care for goats, cows, chickens— even Golden Retrievers (which the farm breeds); they also led visitors on guided tours. The program helped teach campers about responsibility and the value of hard work as they grew socially and emotionally and developed confidence.
Located in Brooklyn and Long Island, IVDU is one of the largest special education Jewish programs in the country. IVDU offers students with disabilities (ages 5 to 21) a comprehensive and nurturing educational environment, providing the core Judaic and General Studies academics, social, and life skills needed to achieve their highest potential and develop into productive citizens in their communities.
With four divisions and a total of 130 kids and 150 staff members, IVDU is open year-round. IVDU students in the upper school are placed on an individualized track where they will either get a Regents diploma, intensive career training, or both. Students are not graded and can graduate anytime up to the age of 21. In 2021, 4 boys and 11 girls graduated; some are off to yeshiva and seminary, some on the way to college, and some are working in the jobs that they chose through IVDU’s career training program.
The staff at IVDU are not just here to educate students. They continually look for ways to help them develop skills and confidence needed to be successful in life. For example, to some students, learning to ride a bicycle is a dream beyond their reach. IVDU staff decided to help students in both elementary and upper school accomplish this dream. In the upper school division, IVDU staff also taught students graphic design and how to run an Amazon business.
Over 200 athletes from across the New York tristate area participated in the first Yachad/IVDU triathlon in New Jersey’s American Dream mall. The professionally designed triathlon course included a distance run through the mall that was mapped out by the official course measurer for the New York City Marathon. The bike racers rode on stationary bikes and the swim event took place in the mall’s DreamWorks Water Park. The triathlon gave IVDU students a memorable and joyful experience of camaraderie while raising awareness for IVDU schools as well as funds.
Centers in Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island provide a staff member for each individual.
Operating in Brooklyn and Long Island, Day Hab programs emphasize social skills development, life skills training, and vocational preparation. Staff members work with participants at their level, helping them to become more independent.
Families with a child with disabilities have needs few of us can imagine. Respite allows parents to care for their other children and themselves.
Vocational staff and job developers compose a comprehensive vocational plan to help each person achieve their goal of employment.
History was made on October 3rd as Yachad celebrated its first Hachnasas Sefer Torah, which is dedicated in loving memory of Debbie Cohen Z’L, the motherin-law of Ken Saibel (Associate Director, Yachad International), who spent her life as a teacher within the special needs community.
Twenty-five-year-old Jake Rosenthal is funny, irreverent, curious about the world, intensely loyal, and a lover of music and bowling. He’s an older brother to Maggie and Sophia. And he has autism. At Yachad, Jake is appreciated for who he is, not for what he has. "They see through the disability to the essence of my son as a human being," says Karen Rosenthal, Jake’s mother. "They treat him with incredible respect."
Through Yachad, Jake—who received his nourishment through a feeding tube until age 10, only began walking at 3, and talking at 5—has developed a sense of selfesteem, an inner voice, and an ability to accept life on life’s terms. "That’s the closest thing to a miracle that can happen," Karen says.
Something else Yachad has given Jake: a chance to identify and connect with other Jews. Before Yachad, Jake lived in and participated in non-Jewish programs, and Karen and her husband, Shawn, didn’t know if Jake would ever care about Parsha, or davening, or even know what these things meant.
He now fully embraces his Jewishness—he loves shul, Yachad Shabbatonim, and the Jewish holidays.
Indeed, Yachad’s Jewish approach is what really sets the program apart. "You sense that the staff appreciates the value, the holiness of Jake’s neshama," Karen says. "They don’t act like they’re doing us a favor. They behave as if it’s their life’s mission to help individuals like Jake reach their potential. As a parent, nothing could be more meaningful."
The many Yachad programs Jake participates in (from Day Hab to summer programs, weekly outings like Pizza and Parsha and bowling, and the many Zoom groups on Yachad.org during COVID) have also given Jake something most of us take for granted—purpose and community. Not only does Jake have friends in Yachad, but he’s also recognized and appreciated in his local community of Woodmere, NY. "People see him not as disabled, but as the funny guy, full of personality, that he is," Karen says. "He’s not invisible, he’s not separate. He belongs."
After years of effort, OU Press and Koren Publishers issued a unique book: The Koren Yachad Siddur, one of the first siddurs authored to meet the spiritual needs of those with developmental challenges. With translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Benjy Leibowitz and Michael Adler, the siddur makes tefillah accessible to so many Jews that up to this point had difficulties connecting with their Creator through traditional methods. The siddur was delivered to each Yachad member, and the Yachad Siddur Initiative featured a weekly Zoom shiur that introduced participants to a part of the tefillah. In addition, and in partnership with OU-JLIC and NCSY, Yachad participants were paired with chavrutot (study partners) for virtual tefillah learning using the Sruly App.