Here for the Year – Against All Odds
Students with special needs who participate in OTS’s Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program face many more challenges than their mainstreamed year-in-Israel peers. If this is true during a regular academic year, then it’s all the more true in 2020 – the year of COVID.
“The obstacles we normally have to overcome in running an Israel experience program for young men and women with disabilities have been multiplied because of the pandemic,” relates Avi Ganz, director of Darkaynu’s men’s division. “A lot of people just assumed that we’d take a hiatus this year.”
Fortunately, however, Darkaynu is run by people who don’t give up so easily. And so, on October 22 – after receiving the necessary medical clearance and under strict guidelines from the Israeli government – the program’s 18th class arrived in Israel.
The group, comprised of five women and eight men from London, New York, Texas, Maryland and New Jersey, was accompanied on the flight by Ganz, who travelled especially to the USA to meet them.
They were welcomed at Ben Gurion airport by Darkaynu’s founder and director Elana Goldscheider, who told them, “This is the place we daven to and the place we have longed for. We are so lucky to be standing here! And we are so lucky that we are going to be able to learn Torah, see the country, learn about Israel and have a great time. We look forward to this being the best year of your lives.”
After singing Hatikva, the students were immediately whisked off to their respective campuses for two weeks of quarantine – during which the young men were joined by Ganz and a madrich and the young women by two madrichot.
During the quarantine period, they are enjoying a packed schedule filled with varied activities and regular learning, Ganz reports. “Once this concludes,” he says, “we’ll go back to the regular Darkaynu schedule: Torah learning, vocational training, independent life-skills classes, chavrutot with mainstreamed overseas students, socially-distant tiyulim and even volunteering throughout Israel – all according to the strict guidelines of the Ministry of Health.”
In the meantime, the students are already having the time of their lives. “Its really so great to be back in Israel,” says Max, 20, a Shana Bet student at Yeshivat Darkaynu from Long Island. “Quarantine is different, and a little hard, but I’m really enjoying learning and spending time with my friends.”
First-year Midreshet Darkaynu student Leah adds, “The visits we get from the Midreshet Lindenbaum girls through the separation window are fun. I’m excited for quarantine to end so we can meet them for real, but we already feel like we’re part of a family.”