JPost – Youth with disabilities embark on an accessible gap year to Israel

Youth with disabilities embark on an accessible gap year to Israel

This week, 29 students from around the globe arrived in Israel to begin their year in the Jewish state through Darkaynu, making it the largest cohort since the group’s founding. 

Jerusalem Post Staff | October 27, 2022

Midreshet Darkaynu visits the KotelThe opportunity to spend a gap year in Israel is a right of passage for many young Jewish adults in the Diaspora. In Orthodox circles, it’s customary to mark the transition from high school to college with a year studying in a yeshiva in the Holy Land.

But until the Elaine and Norm Brodsky Darkaynu Program was founded by the Ohr Torah Stone network in 2003, there was no program specifically geared to helping students with disabilities participate in gap year.

This week, 29 students from the United States, Canada, Australia and England arrived in Israel to begin their year in the Jewish state through Darkaynu, making it the largest cohort since the program’s founding.

Learning Jewish and life skills 
According to the organization’s website, Darkaynu is “the only year-in-Israel program for young women and men with special needs, providing students with a full-time social and academic program within a mainstream environment, and enabling them to gain independence and acquire life skills while reinforcing their ties with Israel and the Jewish people.”

Darkaynu students prepare to depart JFKThe program runs alongside mainstream gap year programs, with the men’s program at Yeshivat Har Etzion and the women’s program at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum seminary.

The year features Jewish studies classes, volunteering and traveling around the country, in addition to vocational training in local restaurants, supermarkets, libraries and kindergartens to enhance interpersonal and life skills needed for the future.

“This model has proven itself as an empowering opportunity for our students, enabling them to build confidence and excel as they live in the same dormitories as other students and experience the excitement of being on a campus with many other young people,” explained Elana Goldscheider, Darkaynu’s director.

“At the same time, they are in a modified program tailored to meet their specific needs, and receive individualized attention in places it is needed, such as in the classroom or in workshops on life skills, independent living or interpersonal relations.”

Darkaynu has been such a success that some students return for a second year, such as Tuvia Minchenberg from Passaic, New Jersey. “Last year I was able to go on a lot of trips and meet a lot of new people, to learn a lot about Israel – and had one of the best years of my life,” he said before the flight.

Elaine and Norm Brodsky came to JFK airport to help see the chaperoned group off from New York.

“We are very proud to be part of the Darkaynu program,” said Elaine. “It’s wonderful for the families to see that their kids can achieve and gain self-confidence and be involved in a program such as this.”

“It’s really exciting to be able to help young men and women who may not be able to have the same opportunities as others,”  Norm said. “This program shows that there is a great way of life out there for them. They learn to love Israel and the country, and to meet others who might be in a similar situation. It’s a great bonding and learning experience.”

“Torah study, personal growth, independence and a relationship to Israel are integral parts of our Jewish human identity, and they must be made accessible to everyone,” said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “Ohr Torah Stone is deeply proud to have developed the Darkaynu program, which is preparing young men and women with special needs with the ability to embrace and pursue meaningful futures as active and committed members of the Jewish community.”

Read this article on the Jerusalem Post website

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