Join us next motzei Shabbat at the Yachad Gala!
Every weeknight, we leave the door open for our son, Zev, to come home from Yachad’s Mendel Balk Center…and by 7 p.m., he runs through the door with a smile and his first question to us is: “Yachad tomorrow?” That’s his first thought upon coming home…always.
Just as Zev is literally almost always thinking about Yachad, this special organization has been an important part of our lives for as long as we can remember.
For Dena, her mother ran Yachad’s chapter in Montreal for many years, and when Dena was in college, she volunteered as a Yachad advisor.
For Moshe, his brother started going to Yachad shabbatonim at a young age and he later also volunteered as a Yachad advisor.
In our early married years, we never imagined that we would have a child with special needs and would need Yachad to play such a big role in our lives.
Our 18-year-old son, Zev, is autistic with profound developmental delays and completely dependent on others. He cannot be left by himself and needs help with virtually all of his daily living tasks. We no longer dream about him achieving a semblance of independence, nor do we dare to hope that he will “outgrow” or develop further from where he is today. Accepting this has always been hard for us but it is part of our reality and Zev’s.
On the other side of the coin, Zev is also incredibly sweet, friendly and is generally happy, almost all of the time. Perhaps most importantly for us, his parents, Zev is happy with who he is and is “sameach b’chelko.”
He lacks the self-awareness to realize how different and far behind he is from all of his siblings and peers. He never complains to us about not liking what’s for dinner or being left out or not having friends like his siblings do. He is never frustrated by his inabilities and he never complains to us…not once, not ever. We have long ago decided this is a blessing for him and us.
For years now, Zev has been attending Yachad programs and shabbatonim throughout the tri-state area. He loves going away for the weekend with his Yachad advisors and meeting other kids from the host schools and communities. He relishes everything about them—the music, dancing, games and mostly just hanging out with others. Believe it or not, Zev even loves the food on the shabbatonim.
Besides for what the shabbatonim do for Zev is what they do for our family. They give us a much-deserved break from the daily challenges that go along with raising a child with special needs. They are also a treasured opportunity to regroup and have a calm Shabbat that is sometimes hard to do when Zev is home. It’s also a breather for our other children as well.
One of the most meaningful and impactful Yachad programs that has come into our lives is one of its most recent—the two-year-old Mendel Balk Center—where Zev goes every weekday from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m.
Before this program started, Zev would come home from school every day at 3 p.m. and would not have anything to do for the rest of the night. Zev does not have friends to hang out with or go places with or have extracurricular activities as most teens do. Even more challenging is the fact that Zev cannot be left at home alone so Dena would not be able to leave him or easily do carpools or errands. These hours post-school were very challenging on a daily basis for our family.
The Mendel Balk Center has quickly become a life-changer and lifesaver for our family and Zev. At the center, Zev has friends who are similar to him and enjoy being with him. He does activities there, eats dinner there, and most of all, just hangs out with others like him. He loves going there and it fills a critical void for him. He is also loved and cared for in return by Yachad’s staff and the many volunteers of all ages.
To illustrate how caring and responsive Yachad has been, we share a short anecdote. Dena noticed years ago that all our other kids were always invited out to Super Bowl parties at their friends’ homes. Unfortunately, Zev didn’t have any Super Bowl parties to be invited to and we tried to make a mini Super Bowl party at our home just for Zev and the both of us but it fell short most of the time. Dena suggested to a Yachad staff member that perhaps they would consider hosting a Super Bowl party for the Mendel Balk participants and for anyone in the community who would want to come.
Fast forward to a year later and the Yachad Super Bowl Party at the Mendel Balk Center is a huge hit! It has all of the regular food normally served at similar parties and the warm camaraderie of a typical Super Bowl party. It’s a special evening for Zev and we are so grateful to Yachad for making it happen.
In truth, we really cannot write or say enough to describe our hakarat hatov to Yachad and all that they do for us and many other families. Raising Zev with Yachad on our side has helped and continues to help us immeasurably. We will always be forever indebted to Yachad.
When Yachad approached us and asked that our family be honored, we immediately accepted, as this is merely a small thing we can do to partially pay back Yachad for all that it does for us.
We hope and ask our readers, our family, our friends, to strongly consider joining us on Motzei Shabbat, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m. at Teaneck’s Cong. Keter Torah in support of Yachad or participating as best you can. We look forward to welcoming you there. It should be a fun and special evening! To donate or sign up for the event, just go to: www.yachad.org/newjersey/gala.
By Moshe and