JVN ( Jewish Volunteering Network)
In this edition of our blog, Caroline Cosgrove writes about the volunteering she and her son James did for his Bar Mitzvah. Here is her story…
In the lead up to the Bar Mitzvah of my son, James, in August 2016, he was considering what he could do to mark the occasion in a meaningful way – one that could really make a difference.
James heard about an Israeli organisation called ALEH, but he didn’t know much about it. Money had been raised for ALEH, Israel’s foremost network of state-of-the-art facilities for children with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, in the memory of his late grandma, June Christie. The funds were used to dedicate a beautiful Smart Classroom in her name at ALEH Negev-Nahahlat Eran, ALEH’s rehabilitative village in the south of Israel. James who was very close to his grandma, who passed away 5 years ago, felt that it would be meaningful to link his Bar Mitzvah and fundraising efforts to her. With that in mind, our family went to visit ALEH’s residential facility in Jerusalem.
We quickly learned that it’s impossible to visit ALEH without being deeply touched by the experience. James met many wonderful children and young adults who face the most severe developmental and intellectual challenges. He was introduced to a boy called Mendy who would be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah in August, just like James. Even though Mendy is not able to speak, he made a real impression on James. Mendy has difficulty controlling his head movements and wears a helmet all the time for his own protection. He is also confined to a wheelchair. It was very humbling for James to see a child his own age whose life was so much more difficult and restrictive, due to no fault of his own. And while James anxiously awaited his Bar Mitzvah celebration, he realised that Mendy’s Bar Mitzvah experience would be markedly different. Interacting with Mendy helped James realise just how fortunate he is, as well as how important it is to do whatever possible to help those in great need of help and support.
As we toured ALEH, we all noticed the great love and care offered by the staff and volunteers. ALEH provides these special children with a quality of life that would not be possible otherwise, ensuring that their parents receive the support they so desperately need and a break from the 24/7 attention require to care for them appropriately. We were also in awe of the hi-tech sensory and physical aid equipment utilised by ALEH to help each child reach their greatest potential – whatever that might be. Facilities and specialist of this caliber come at a huge cost, and it became abundantly clear how important it is to help fundraise for ALEH so that they could continue their amazing work for children and young adults who face such enormous daily challenges.
James was keen to raise money for and awareness of ALEH. He decided to ask friends and family members to sponsor a one-man walk-a-thon, wherein he would walk to and from school, instead of taking the usual 30 minute bus ride door to door. Ultimately, James raised £2,700 and was thrilled when he found out that his name would be included on the inspiring ‘Mitzvah Tree’ at ALEH’s Jerusalem facility. He can’t wait to see his leaf the next time we visit!
When we celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem this past August, James continued on his mission to raise awareness of ALEH by presenting his guests, all of whom were campaign sponsors, with a token of thanks purchased from the ALEH Boutique. These beautiful handmade items, ceramic chamsas and pomegranate magnets, were all created by the children of ALEH themselves in their vocational workshops. In this way, every guest took home a small piece of ALEH that they would be able to share with their family and friends. We hope that other children and families will see these ALEH Boutique items displayed in their friends’ homes and be motivated to learn more about ALEH and, hopefully, choose to support its work in the future.
ALEH supports and empowers so many children for whom the transition to Bar and Bat Mitzvah is so very different. I found that linking raising funds and awareness for ALEH to this meaningful personal milestone helped us all connect more deeply to this incredibly important right of passage and created a special experience for James and all of those around him.
Eventually, we all had to return to our normal lives, but this powerful experience left an indelible impression on all of us. We hope to develop our relationship with Mendy further, and we can’t wait for our next opportunity to spend time with the special children at ALEH.
The British Friends of ALEH offers Social Action Programmes for young people and Bar / Bat Mitzvah youth. For more information, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us this Mitzvah Day and get crafty for the children of ALEH – Date: Sunday, 27th of November; 2-5pm at JW3. For more information, please e-mail: email@example.com
The Universal Children’s Day (20 November) and Persons with Disabilities’ Day (3 December) are great opportunities to make a difference! You can organise a party to raise awareness and funds for the children of ALEH. The party can be in your home, office, school, shul or anywhere you wish, and ALEH will provide marketing materials. For more information, please e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteering in Israel – ALEH welcomes Volunteers from around the world, and offers them a free room and board and, a chance to enrich the lives of our children while gaining hands-on experience. ALEH has a multitude of volunteer opportunities to meet each person’s skills, availability, and preferences. Our hundreds of volunteers describe their experience as unique, gratifying and memorable and can attest to the immeasurable affect it has made in their lives. If you are able to commit to a minimum of one month of volunteering, take a look at our opportunities on the JVN website here.
Get ready to make an impact!