'Kol dichfin, kol ditzrich': All with special needs
Mar. 15, 2013
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
Participants of 'Darkaynu' post-high school program may have special needs, not needy; full participants this Seder.
the elongated study desk, the two young women are discussing Passover
and the Haggada, the text read at the Passover Seder. "Why is so much
of the Haggada written in Aramaic and not Hebrew?" asks one. Her study
partner isn't sure, and flips through the commentaries in the book
they're both using. They think of examples in Aramaic. " Ha lahma anya
– this is the bread of affliction," says one of them.
help thinking of the words " kol dichfin, kol ditzrich " – the poignant
"All who are hungry, come in and eat; all who are needy come in and
make Passover" that is read in the same passage.
evening at Midreshet Lindenbaum, one of the most prestigious study
halls for women acquiring advanced Jewish education. Tall Talmud
tractates and other primary sources dominate the tabletop book stands,
but a few English-language Jewish classics like Lonely Man of Faith ,
If You were God, and Genesis and the Big Bang are tucked into the
bookshelves too. The brainiest graduates of the world's top Jewish high
schools compete for spots in this program, hoping to fine-tune their
Jewish study skills before heading to Harvard, the University of
Pennsylvania and Columbia University.
Two weeks before Passover,
nearly everyone is focused on the upcoming festival. Almost every desk
has a copy of Pesahim , the third tractate of Seder Moed, the section
of the dense compendium of Jewish thought that deals with Passover. As
in all religious study halls, most studying is conducted in hevrutot,
pairs of students working together to unravel the meaning and
significance of complex texts. At the back of the room, I spot a famous
teacher studying one-on-one with a lucky student.
I've come to eavesdrop at the tables where one partner is a young woman
in the regular program of Midreshet Lindenbaum and the other is a
member of the Darkaynu ("our path") program, geared for high school
graduates with special needs. Nearly every weekday, pairs of students
meet to study in the hall. I've chanced on these young women during
women's night at the Jerusalem Pool and admired the sweetness of the
atmosphere among the volunteers and the participants, despite severe
physical, developmental and emotional challenges. I met them again in
their orange T-shirts toward the end of the Jerusalem Marathon,
valiantly walking hand in hand. The same volunteers and counselors who
swim and run with them make this post-high school year in Israel for
teens with special needs not only possible but sensational. There's a
parallel program for young men at the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Alon Shvut
in Gush Etzion.
The study pairs I join are all focused on
Passover, too. They're using Haggadot with English translations of the
Hebrew and Aramaic. A few pairs are reviewing Seder basics, while
others are tackling tougher questions like the one above. Several of
the 11 women with special needs attended public school, while others
went to yeshivot with special education programs like the New
Jersey-based Sinai schools for children with learning and developmental
disabilities. Still others were fully mainstreamed.
table, sits a Darkaynu student who is legally blind. Her study partner
is doing all the reading, reviewing the 10 plagues. They're troubled by
the English translation "vermin," which could suit several plagues.
Another young woman can recite whole paragraphs of the Haggada by heart
but is fretting about her mother's upcoming visit to be with her for
Passover. "I'm worried about her coming. She treats me like a baby,"
At another table, the subject is why some Sephardi
Jews eat rice on Passover. At still another, they're talking about the
Four Sons. My stomach twists. How are they going to get through "the
simple son," I worry. But the pair sails through it, seeming not to
notice that for one of them this term might have significant resonance.
They're comfortable with each other. After all, they've been studying
together since September.
In addition to study, the participants
volunteer in food preparation for the elderly, kindergartens and school
offices. They go on hikes and spend Shabbatot with adoptive families.
They get more supervision than participants in most other programs, but
they have never had to deal with the alcohol or drug problems that have
plagued some year-in-Israel groups.
UNTIL DARKAYNU started 11
years ago, special-ed students would listen with envy as their siblings
weighed the pros and cons of the many year-long programs they could
attend in Israel after high school. They would have to stay home.
initiative for Darkaynu began with the sensitivity of two women who
were saddened when a friend's sister with Down syndrome couldn't find a
program in Israel that would accept her.
Keren Gluch and Ilana
Goldscheider, two religious special-ed experts, were behind the
initiative. Both Americans, they've since made aliya.
determined that we could find a way for our friend's sister to come to
Israel for a year, but Ilana always thinks bigger. She's a program
creator," says Gluch.
Goldscheider had started and run a bunk for special-ed kids at Camp Morasha in Pennsylvania.
approached Tova Rhein, the head of Midreshet Lindenbaum, and got an
enthusiastic response from her. Approval followed from Ohr Torah Stone
and its chancellor, Jerusalem Post columnist Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
Over 100 young people have completed the program so far.
of the extra effort goes into interviewing and training the volunteers
and counselors, says Gluch. While other gap-year programs may have
difficulty finding counselors, this one has an abundance of
goodhearted, highly motivated candidates, she says. Some are drawn from
second-year National Service volunteers. Others, like Rachaeli Samuel
from Toronto, are students in the advanced program at Midreshet
Lindenbaum. Samuel felt so enriched by the hevruta with Darkaynu girls
that she stayed an extra year to work with them.
When I got
home, I checked the commentaries on the "Kol dichfin/ kol ditzrich"
passage in the half-dozen Haggadot we have. Significantly, Rabbi
Riskin's commentary lingers on the distinction between the hungry and
the needy. The needy, he says, are those who have "fallen beneath the
wheels of our increasingly demanding and abrasive society." The
experience of the Seder, he says, provides food for both the body and
The young Jews of Darkaynu may have special needs,
but engulfed in this caring program, they are not needy. They'll be
full participants at this year's Seder, celebrating Redemption with all
of our people.