July 21, 2024
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Finding the Pathway: Recognizing Outstanding Darkaynu Students

When a student is honored, the natural expectation is the announcement of a special academic accomplishment, perhaps the granting of a research prize or success in some prestigious scholarship competition. Some student honors, however, transcend the academic, recognizing essential humanity and the reach for achievement of individual potential.

Darkaynu, a unique program for young adults with special needs, is a program of inclusion, based at Ohr Torah. The mission of the yeshiva whose name translates as “The light of the Torah,” is to bring every Jew of every background and level of learning into the community of Jewish living. At the Darkaynu program, learners on another path are welcomed, assuring them, says dean Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, “that they are part of the Jewish community,” and like so many Jewish youngsters “have every right to spend their gap year in Israel.” The greatest gift,” says Ohr Torah’s dean, “is to help another live up to his or her potential,” a challenge, the rabbi notes, not met by most people.

Rabbi Riskin called forward Elaine and Norm Brodsky, patrons of the Darkaynu programs, calling their involvement “an important shidduch (match).”

The program began 14 years ago, founded and under the continuing watch of Elana Goldscheider. In two highly structured, mirrored programs, one for girls and the other for boys, a curriculum of “very practical learning” and programs of inclusion was created to help students become independent, “valuable members of the team.” “We find,” she said, “an understanding of what each child can do, allowing him or her to be themselves, and directing them to where they can go. They gain a sense of belonging and responsibility to be part of the community—like every other child.”

Four Darkaynu students were honored: Bobby Dratch, Jonah (JJ) Goldstein, Michael Nagler and Melissa Spector. Each spoke of the Darkaynu experience in a gently produced video, then received a commemorative certificate from Rabbi Riskin and Elana Goldscheider on stage. Dr. Norman Lamm, past president and former chancellor of Yeshiva University, was among the guests at the oversubscribed dinner. Bobby Dratch is one of a set of triplets, all of whom spent their gap year in Israel. She is also Dr. Lamm’s granddaughter.

Rabbi David Stav, Rabbi Riskin’s deputy, stressed that Ohr Torah is about dignifying everybody in the community, “a responsibility for every boy and girl.” He expressed his hope of “developing a group of rabbis who will know how to respond to the modern world, to expose more and more secular youngsters to the broad vision of Ohr Torah, combining religious studies with modernity; yeshiva studies of the highest version.” Stav is involved in creating a program that will assure “that there will not be one Jewish family in Israel who wishes to have exposure to Jewish practice that will not have that opportunity.”

Concluding, Rabbi Riskin assured the honorees, “You’ve each played the game, so far, to its fullest and to your utmost.” To all attending, he declared, “These children are special gifts. Young adults who help teach us so much.”

By Maxine Dovere

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