Saturday, May 15, 2021

Last year, my wife and I were honored at Yachad NJ’s annual gala and I published in this space a column about our family’s many strong connections with, and affection for, Yachad and how much Yachad has done for us and our special son, Zev. It was a very special night for us and one I will remember always.

At the event, Yachad gave me the chance to speak briefly on behalf of the other honorees at the end of evening and I am reprinting those final words below. After thanking our fellow honorees and our friends and all of the Yachad staff, I concluded the program by saying:

I want to offer a closing thought and a personal one: Our family and I have been involved in the world of the developmentally disabled for many decades, my wife since even before birth and myself from the age of 10, via our own siblings with special needs and our years as Yachad advisors and counselors in group homes and summer programs …but frankly and candidly, we were in complete shock and downright unprepared as parents when Zev’s diagnosis became clear.

We never thought it would happen to us…and we were the ones who supposedly knew something about this world. We had the right resumes and actual, real-life skills in this field.

How could anyone ever be more prepared than we were?

And yet we weren’t...we were practically shattered!

We remember feeling sorry for the poor Yachad parents whose children we got to spend a Shabbos weekend or two with...and thinking how hard their lives must be...and now we were going to be one of those parents?! It couldn’t be!

We remember feeling proud and happy to be able to give these parents a needed respite and break from their children with special needs...and now we were going to be those parents?

Well, we grew, and we adjusted. And we have become those parents. And it’s not easy; and it likely never will be.

And in that process—which is still ongoing—we and our entire family, Zev included, got stronger and yes, tougher, even.

We would not be in that place without Yachad. We would not be here tonight without Yachad’s help. And we are so grateful, so indebted to Yachad, for all that it does for us, every day. We look forward to Yachad being our family for many more years to come. Thank you, Yachad!!!

A year has passed since I spoke these words. and what a year it has been! For Yachad, COVID-19 has caused many of its programs to be reduced or go virtual, but the organization has persevered and is doing its best to continue as much of its programming online and virtually as possible. For my wife and me, the physical re-opening of the Mendel Balk Center in Teaneck and its programs over the past few months (albeit on a reduced basis due to COVID-19) has been an absolute lifesaver for us, as our son’s schooling has been mostly virtual and he simply cannot participate fully in Zoom school sessions. Just having somewhere for our son to go out of the house, even if only for a few hours a week, is a real godsend and bracha for us.

This brings me to this year’s annual gala, being held this Saturday night, January 9, at 8 p.m., which of course, like all other community events, is now virtual. In addition to featuring a special musical havdalah and mini-concert with Simcha Leiner, this year’s event is honoring our friend Coach Gila Guzman, who teaches in Yachad’s Adult Day Program, and Rabbi Dr. Benjy and Shifra Leibowitz, who are both longtime Yachad veterans. The evening will also feature a tribute to long-time Yachad member Donny Hain, z”l, who passed away this past spring and who I had known since my early 20s. I am sure tears will be shed as Yachad will be dedicating The Donny Hain (z”l) Yachad Center Lounge at Yachad’s offices in Teaneck.

Donny was a unique and special neshama who impacted all who knew him in so many ways. I have always admired and felt close to Donny and his family and I also miss Donny’s father, Dr. Jimmy Hain, z”l, who passed away just under two years ago. When social distancing restrictions one day finally ease, I am looking forward to visiting and picking up my son at the lounge named in Donny’s memory and keeping his name and memory alive.

I hope that you will join the many who will be participating virtually on Motzei Shabbat beginning at 8 p.m. To learn more and to donate and register, please visit https://www.yachad.org/newjersey/gala/

By Moshe Kinderlehrer, 

co-publisher, The Jewish Link