April 13, 2024
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Yachad-Yavneh Shabbaton at Ahavat Achim

Yachad means unity. And so does the Yachad organization, whose mission it is to promote inclusion for children and adults with special needs in the broader Jewish community, “Because Everyone Belongs.” The 16th Annual Yachad-Yavneh Shabbaton at Congregation Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, held earlier this month, certainly succeeded in this mission. This shabbaton brought 150 people—Yachad children and advisors, and eighth graders and staff from Yavneh Academy in Paramus—together with the Ahavat Achim community.

Each constituency looks forward to this program with great anticipation and excitement. Betsy Sonnenblick, a member of Ahavat Achim who coordinates housing for the Shabbaton, said, “It’s the highlight of the year for our shul.”

Jordana Baruchov, activities director for the middle school at Yavneh Academy, organizes the event on Yavneh’s end. She also said, “This event is one of the highlights of the eighth grade year, as it helps students bond with each other in addition to connecting with others.”

Ron Hirschhorn, program director of Junior Yachad (children up to the age of 16), said, “This Shabbaton means the world to the Yachad children.”

What makes the Shabbaton so special?

“The Yachad members want to meet the kids from Yavneh,” said Hirschhorn. “They enjoy being amongst friends and being a part of the community—it allows them to feel that they belong.” Hirschhorn has seen friendships develop between Yachad members and Yavneh students that continue beyond the Shabbaton itself.

Unity is one of the goals of the program from Yavneh’s perspective as well. According to Boruchov, “We believe that the program sensitizes the children, and helps them learn the importance of chesed and caring for one another.”

This sensitization does not just happen. Hirschhorn visits the school beforehand to perform educational outreach. He meets with students and explains to them how to interact with kids with disabilities. Boruchov follows up and meets with the students, encouraging them to become part of the Shabbaton.  “It allows the children to shine outside the classroom,” she said, and further stated that the event brings her great pride as well.

Sara Levine, a member of Ahavat Achim who works with Sonnenblick to coordinate housing, is a Yavneh parent as well, and has a child in the 8th grade this year. Her family hosted a Yachad member and her advisor, as well as a number of 8th grade girls. “They really made an effort to interact with the Yachad member,” she said. “I felt proud to be part of a community that is giving back.”

“This Shabbaton is an opportunity to get to know the Yachad children and experience a Shabbos with them,” she added. “It’s nice to hear and speak with the kids and the advisors who are great people that really give of themselves.”

This spirit of friendship, community, and ruach descends upon Ahavat Achim during the Yachad Yavneh Shabbaton. From the time the social hall is decorated on Thursday night by the Yavneh students, until the Melaveh Malkah on Saturday night, there is a spirit that is palpable to all who attend.

Hazkiel Kor, a member of the shul who has chaired the event for the last seven years, said, “There is love in the air. On this Shabbat, we remember that we are all a family, and we all have to take care of each other.”

Kor begins preparing for the Shabbaton months in advance. But, he said, “It’s not work because I enjoy doing it so much. I would not give it up for the world.”  Sonnenblick concurred, saying,  “The challenge is worthwhile – it’s a beautiful event.”

Hirschorn added, “The Yachad members walk out smiling, appreciative, and happy. They just have one question. Can we come back again?”

And the answer is certainly yes. Ahavat Achim is happy to enjoy your company.

Larry Bernstein is a free-lance writer, teacher, and tutor. He and his family live in Bergen County. You can find his website at larrydbernstein.com His blog address is memyselfandkids.com

By Larry Bernstein

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