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Yachad New Jersey’s Annual Gala Is January 8

Yachad New Jersey will host its annual gala on Motzei Shabbat, January 8, at Congregation Keter Torah. Yachad is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with developmental disabilities by providing social and educational programs for members and their families. Guided by its principle of inclusivity, the organization has changed the way the community approaches people with special needs and has created an environment that helps them claim their rightful place in society.

 

Guests of Honor:
Ronit and Amnon Wenger

The guests of Honor are Ronit and Amnon Wenger. The Wengers’ involvement with Yachad began when Ronit started working at Camp Mesorah five years ago. With each passing year, the Wengers have deepened their connection to the organization and especially look forward to the opportunity to watch campers and Yachad members connect throughout the summer. Ronit said there are so many stories worth sharing, it’s hard for her to name just one. She is particularly proud of the connection she shares with a particular Yachad member who was in her division and wanted to learn to cook. After camp ended, they continued cooking together on FaceTime every Thursday night. Ronit said seeing her on screen in their kitchen is a highlight of the week for the entire family.

Both Ronit and Amnon said that Yachad has had a tremendous effect on their family, and especially on their daughter Leah, who attended the Yad B’Yad summer program years ago and described the experience as life changing. After returning home, she all but insisted the Wengers dedicate time and resources to the treasured organization on a regular basis, a request they were happy to oblige.

Ronit sees the challenges families of children with special needs face and understands how critical the support services are not just for the members but for parents and siblings as well. Knowing that your child has a place to go for the summer where they will be happy and safe is extremely helpful, she said, and added that there is a sense of empowerment felt among the Yachad members at Camp Mesorah who are always ready and willing to help with anything she asks of them.

As a family, they unanimously agree that one of the best parts of Camp Mesorah is Yachad circle time. Amnon said the ruach and the togetherness is so uplifting, they incorporated it into their personal home Shabbat experience. The Wengers feel fortunate to be involved in an organization that continuously inspires their core family and the greater community to appreciate and value the differences in each of us.

 

Keter Shem Tov Award: Batya Jacob

Yachad will bestow its Keter Shem Tov Award on Batya Jacob. Batya, who lives in West Orange with her husband Michael, has been working for Yachad for over 23 years, touching many parts of the organization during that time. The Jacobs, who have five children, were originally introduced to Yachad through their youngest child who was born with a hearing loss.

“Hashem leads people in interesting directions,” said Batya, who is an audiologist by trade. Concerned that people with disabilities might be denied a Jewish education, she was compelled to return to school to pursue a degree in education that would allow her to teach limudei kodesh to anyone who wanted to learn.

While looking for a teaching job, she was offered an exciting opportunity to work with Yachad as the program director for Our Way for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. In that role, Batya developed many of the initiatives that are mainstays of the organization, including the hearing aid gemach, a program she is particularly proud of, where members may borrow hearing aids that their own audiologists and hearing aid dealers recommend for their specific hearing loss. As an audiologist, Batya knows how costly hearing aids could be and that many people who need them simply can’t afford them. The gemach presently has 75 hearing aids being used throughout the country. Batya also created and implemented the Purim PowerPoint Program, which is used in over 750 synagogues worldwide.

Batya has dedicated many years to the educational component of Yachad, organizing conferences in geographical areas across the U.S. and Canada for educators of both schools for students with special needs and typical yeshivot and day schools who were including students with special needs into the classes. She was also a support for families searching for school placements for their children and for individual schools and teachers on inclusion of specific students.

Batya appreciates how critical Yachad support services are for families of individuals with special needs and has always prioritized Shabbatons in New York and across the U.S., family days in the U.S. and Canada, and sibling support programs. In her current role as development executive, Batya focuses mainly on foundations and grants to help fund many of the initiatives and programs for Yachad members and their families.

Batya said with each position she was presented another opportunity to advance an organization she believes significantly impacts the greater community. “When I first started working with Yachad, there was a personal piece that connected me, but over time it has gone way beyond that,” she said. “Yachad has actively shown the world what it means to accept people for what they are.”

 

Shana and Evan Carmen: Young Leadership Award

The Young Leadership Award will be presented to Shana and Evan Carmen. Evan’s Yachad journey began over 20 years ago as an excuse to spend more time with his twin brother Daniel, a long-time Yachad member. He started volunteering on Shabbatons, mainly working in the kitchen, but quickly found himself migrating to circle time after meals, participating in the amazing programming offered, and getting to know the other members and advisers. Over time, the Shabbatons led to hosting Yachad for holidays, working on summer programs, and eventually bringing the entire family on various Shabbatons during the year.

“Shana and I have been able to see firsthand the amazing programming and experiences Yachad Shabbatons and events offer,” said Evan. “Seeing advisers passionate about helping others was and is amazing. It is truly inspiring to see high school students who could be hanging out with friends, choose to spend a weekend, or even a summer, with Yachad in order to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

For the past eight years, Evan has been working with Yachad Summer programs and said the pure joy and appreciation received from members and advisers alike makes every year more rewarding than the last.

Both Shana and Evan said Yachad really makes the idea of inclusion easy. “Involving our kids in Yachad has been such an amazing and rewarding experience; they were welcomed with open arms from day one and constantly ask when the next Shabbaton is.” As parents, the Carmens believe Yachad has imprinted an invaluable message on their children. Watching their kids grasp the concept of inclusion in their everyday lives is very meaningful, and it has spilled over into interactions with friends, schoolmates and family members, where they refuse to exclude anybody for any reason, in any situation.

“We are so grateful for Yachad and the everlasting impact it has had and will continue to have on my brother’s, kids’ and our entire family’s life,” said Evan.

 

Yachad Family Award: Tammy, Josh and Tova Stern

“Yachad is my family,” said Yachad member Tova Stern in her interview for the Yachad Family Award she and her parents will receive at the upcoming gala. For Tammy and Josh Stern, it’s hard to put into words the hakarat hatov they feel toward Yachad for what they have done for Tova and therefore their entire family. The Sterns were first introduced to Yachad many years ago when they attended the annual family Shabbaton, an experience that Tammy said left her with an overwhelming sense of belonging. “Yachad thought of every detail and then some,” she said, and added that for her and Josh it’s a highlight of each year and something they look forward to with tremendous anticipation.

“The Shabbaton is a paradigm of what Yachad stands for,” said Tammy. She continued that the staff goes above and beyond to make sure the entire family is taken care of by providing day camp for siblings, and workshops and opportunities for parents to connect with one another and develop meaningful friendships with people who are facing similar challenges.

What distinguishes Yachad is the unpretentious way they welcome members and their families into the organization. “They truly care about each person,” said Tammy, who joked that her daughter Tova can see right through someone who is not authentic. At Yachad she appreciates that she is treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else.

Yachad has created a network of people who are like extended family, said Tammy, describing the organization’s impact as a ripple effect. It’s not only what they do for the individual, she said, but also what they do for the family, the community and pretty much the world.

For online reservations or to donate please visit www.yachad.org/njgala.

All unvaccinated guests will be required to take an on-site rapid test.

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