(Courtesy of Darkaynu) In the largest cohort to date, 29 students from the U.S., Canada, Australia and England arrived this week to take part in the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program. Founded in 2003 by the Ohr Torah Stone network (OTS), Darkaynu is the first and only gap-year program in Israel for Orthodox students with a range of developmental, cognitive and physical disabilities.
The program takes place alongside mainstream gap-year programs, with the men’s program at Yeshivat Har Etzion and the women’s program at OTS’s Midreshet Lindenbaum. This unique model of “sidestreaming” has been proven to enable the Darkaynu students to participate in activities in which they can excel and build confidence, such as dorm living, mealtimes, prayers, trips and outings, while at the same time be separated whenever they need individualized attention, empowering them to flourish in a setting designed especially for them, rather than being the “special” kids in a “normal” environment.
Many students are returning for their second year at Darkaynu, including Tuvia Minchenberg from Passaic. “Last year I was able to go on a lot of trips and meet a lot of new people, to learn a lot about Israel and had one of the best years of my life,” he said before the flight. His mother, father and brother were on hand, saying, “We are so grateful to Darkaynu for providing such an amazing, wholesome program for our son to be able to learn, be in Eretz Yisrael and become more independent. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“It’s really exciting to be able to help young men and women who may not be able to have the same opportunities as others,” said Norm Brodsky who, together with his wife Elaine, came to JFK airport to help see the chaperoned group off from New York. “This program shows that there is a great way of life out there for them. They learn to love Israel and the country, and to meet others who might be in a similar situation. It’s a great bonding and learning experience.”
The Darkaynu Israel experience includes Jewish studies classes, volunteering and traveling around the country as well as vocational training in local restaurants, supermarkets, libraries and kindergartens to enhance interpersonal and life skills needed for the future.
“We are very proud to be part of the Darkaynu program,” said Elaine Brodsky. “It’s wonderful for the families to see that their kids can achieve and gain self-confidence and be involved in a program such as this. I really commend Ohr Torah Stone for continuing to run this program.”
“Torah study, personal growth, independence and a relationship to Israel are integral parts of our Jewish human identity, and they must be made accessible to everyone,” said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, president and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “Ohr Torah Stone is deeply proud to have developed the Darkaynu program, which is preparing young men and women with special needs with the ability to embrace and pursue meaningful futures as active and committed members of the Jewish community.”