A Letter from the Heart: Thanks For ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ to Israel For Daughter With Disabilities

23 Jan 2013


Yael with the group on the way to visit the Kotel.

Yael with her brother and Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Yael (Yvette) Jeidel of Brooklyn, NY participated in the recent Taglit-Birthright Israel Orthodox Union Israel Free Spirit (Birthright) Yachad ten-day trip to Israel. Yael, who has cerebral palsy and mental retardation, and uses a communication board to communicate with others, was accompanied by a 1:1 staff member. She was permitted to take the trip despite being older than the usual 26-year-old maximum age for Taglit-Birthright Israel. Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Integation, an agency of the OU’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities, strives for the Inclusion of those with disabilities into the full spectrum of Jewish life.

Upon the return of the group, Yael’s mother, Vardi Jeidel, sent the following letter to Nicole Bodner, Director of New York Yachad. The letter is reprinted with the permission of Mrs. Jeidel. “I am touched,” she said, when asked for her consent. The letter has not been edited.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Nicole and All,

I wanted to take a few moments before Shabbat to put my thoughts
down and thank you and your wonderful organization for giving my daughter
Yael the trip of her lifetime. I cannot even say that it was a dream come true,
because, quite honestly we never even could have dreamed that such a trip
was even a possibility for her.

Many in our family have been to Israel; as you may know Yael has two
siblings currently living there. But it was too much of a stretch of our imagination
to even think of Yael maneuvering around the country. And yet she went to
Israel. Every evening during her trip, we would look at the Snapfish photos you
so thoughtfully sent, and found it hard to digest what we were seeing:

Yael is in a shul in Tzfat!

Yael is in the old city of Jerusalem!

Yael is on top of Masada!

If someone would have told me that you photoshopped her into the
photos, I could have believed them.

Yael and others like her, spend their lives trapped within the
limitations of their bodies. These past days, if only for a short while, she was
released from her confines. There was nothing that she couldn’t do and no
place she couldn’t go. She was free.

Today I spoke with her counselor, Chaya Suri, who described the care
and devotion of all the staff, whether it was you, Nicole, and your devotion;
Asaf and his costumes; other counselors; the soldiers; bus driver; and Rachel
from Tampa. Everyone had time and love to give to the others to help out.
Nothing was a hardship and everything was possible.

Yael’s favorite activity is going on a roller coaster ride. She sits in
a straight jacket and soars through the air and feels the rush of movement.
For a few short giddy moments she is free, she flies. She is like anyone else
who happens to like a roller coaster ride.

For these past ten days, thanks to you at Birthright, she was freed
of her limitations. Yael was free to enjoy all that Israel had to offer, and she
loved it completely. We thank you so very much.

Sincerely, Vardi Jeidel

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rabbi Dave Felsenthal, Director of the OU’s NextGen Department which organizes the Birthright trips, said, “Taglit-Birthright Israel and the OU are proud to offer every Jewish young adult previously only dreamed about opportunities to reconnect with their Jewish traditions and their home in Israel, and the trips we run through IsraelFreeSpirit.com are a fabulous example of that dream come true.”

Yachad’s Nicole Bodner, who saw Yael throughout the day on the trip, recalls the experience. “Yael is a very sociable person who enjoys music and shopping as many other young women do,” she said. “It was incredible meeting Yael and all of the other participants and staff and to observe them soak in every moment of their first time in Israel, or first trip with peers.

“Yael was constantly laughing and smiling, whether we were having fun dancing on a boat ride in the Kineret, riding in a jeep through the Golan Heights, or at participants’ bar/bat mitzvahs on top of Masada. She is a prime example that all individuals deserve the opportunity to participate and benefit from this life-changing gift from Birthright. I gained new perspective through her reactions seeing some of the places where we went.

I feel blessed to be a part of the Birthright Yachad program. It is truly an amazing experience for all involved. We were and are a unit of individuals who explored Israel together, making connections with each other and our country, as fellow proud Jews and friends. It is what Inclusion is all about.”

Yael with her counselor, Chaya Suri Klein, on top of Masada.

OU | Enhancing Jewish Life