Jerusalem (TPS) — For many young Jews from the Diaspora, the gap year in Israel is a formative experience that helps mold their attachment to their faith and people. The Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Programs, part of the Ohr Torah Stone educational network, has been providing this special experience to young men and women with special needs who also long for a chance to learn and travel around Israel, in a framework designed specifically for them.
While the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic initially looked like it might threaten the program this year, Darkaynu’s directors worked to adjust various aspects of the program to ensure that it would be able to continue safely.
The latest challenge facing the program came as Pesach approached. The two weeks before the Pesach holiday are vacation time in the Yeshiva world, known as “Bein Hazmanim,” and the Israeli yeshiva students alongside whom the Darkaynu participants live and learn left their shared Gush Etzion campus and headed home.
That’s when the 11th grade of the Neveh Shmuel boys’ high school, also a part of the Ohr Torah Stone network and located in neighboring Efrat, stepped in.
The entire class of 70 students moved onto Ohr Torah Stone’s Israel Henry Beren Campus for the entire week so that Darkaynu would not be left alone, enabling them to gain an invaluable educational experience, living and learning with a group of students with whom they might never have gotten to know otherwise.
“Every yeshiva gets quiet once the ‘Zman’ ends,” said Avi Ganz, Director of Yeshivat Darkaynu. “Instead of easing into that quiet, having the local high school boys join us this week has infused the campus with new energy; a palpable excitement for staff and students alike.”
Besides the learning and regular classes, the group also enjoyed shared fun activities, including laser tag and a soccer tournament.
“I have been enjoying learning with the Neveh Shmuel students and I am looking forward to our barbecue together at the end of the week,” said Yitzy Ghermezian from Riverdale, NY, a student on the Darkaynu program. “It has been great spending time together and meeting them.”
Matanya Schuman, one of the 11th graders at Neveh Shmuel said that the special situation “has given us the chance to get to know an incredible group of guys who chose to come to Israel this year.”
“Even though we might be different and primarily speak different languages, we have no trouble communicating, learning and enjoying our time together. Without this program we might never have had the opportunity to meet and get to know them in such a real and meaningful way,” he shared.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of the Ohr Torah Stone network, saluted the initiative, saying that “in a time of COVID, where social distancing is the buzzword, this was an incredibly moving display of friendship and unity, but even more, a welcome educational opportunity for the students from both of our programs.”
“We take great pride that our vaccinated 11th graders chose to step up to the plate in this special way and prove that we have so much to learn and gain from one another. I cannot think of a better to prepare for the holiday of freedom than through this act of social inclusion,” he said.