An Accessible Gap Year For Youth With Disabilities
Darkaynu gives students with disabilities an Israel gap-year trip of a lifetime
For many Jewish young adults, a gap year in Israel is a rite of passage. It can be a critical part of their personal growth and engagement with the Jewish people. Some people prefer to do service opportunities like MASA Israel and others like to do more study. It’s customary, especially among Orthodox populations, to mark the transition from high school to college with a year studying in a yeshiva in the Holy Land. But until visionary founding director Elana Goldscheider partnered with Ohr Torah Stone to found Darkaynu in 2003, there was no program specifically geared to helping students with disabilities access this vital experience.
Darkaynu gives students with disabilities an Israel gap-year trip of a lifetime while enabling its participants to be included in a larger community of non-disabled young adults. As a disability rights activist who is committed to both the Jewish community and Israel, I have long stressed the importance of recognizing that people living with disabilities are equal to everyone in the eyes of G-d. But too often, that is not reflected in our religious communities and institutions, with too many still not taking the extra step to include people living with special needs in their institutions and programs. Thus, I think many can learn from Darkaynu.
Run by the Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) network, the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program brings Jewish students living with disabilities to Israel for a gap-year experience of religious study. In the men’s and women’s sessions, located in separate locations in Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, Darkaynu students live on the same campus and share many activities with their mainstreamed peers. Avi Ganz, the director of Yeshivat Darkaynu for young men, described the program’s approach as “side-streaming.” “Our students live in the same dormitories as other students and can experience the excitement of being on a campus with many other young people, but we develop a modified gap-year experience to meet their specific needs,” he explains. Click here to read the entire article on the Jewish Week website