(the below post is a translation of an article that originally appeared here)
Just a few weeks ago, when we put our books aside for the last time and we could officially be called high school graduates, we understood – all my friends and I who just finished Yeshivat AMIT Kfar Ganim – how our school experience was different from that at other schools.
The motto of our yeshiva is integration: the integration of many different ideas that together form one complete picture; the connection between the sacred and the secular, the spiritual and the here-and-now, but most significantly the integration of children with disabilities.
From the very first day of school, when everything is still new, it’s hard not to notice that not all the children are the same here. Our connection with the children with disabilities started slowly, with acceptance, understanding, inclusion and adaptation, and later on continued with personal mentoring, help with schoolwork, and real friendships.
Our first encounter with one of these children was a few months after the beginning of school, when our teacher explained that a new student would be joining our class, and that he would need support and love from all of us. Avi (not his real name), was a boy our age, only 13, and had Down syndrome. He sat at the front of the classroom along with his personal aide. he attended almost all of our lessons, and was part of the class in every respect.
The meaning of this may seem simple, but it is often complex. Field trips are together, eating lunch every day is together. Communicating with Avi was often complicated, but being together day in and day out made accepting others so obvious that only in retrospect can we understand that this was an unusual process. Getting used to Avi’s daily presence was not easy at first, but towards the end of the year, when the yeshiva had a march to Jerusalem and the two of us were at the back together, our connection did not feel even slightly strange.
And this is just one case of a special relationship with a special child. The class of children with disabilities is taught just as our classes are – and with many of the same teachers – and was an integral part of the yeshiva. You can not miss them: they are always there. They are with us at morning prayers, when someone always volunteers to sit with a child with disabilities throughout the service, they are with us in the hallways (some insisting on a “high-five” each time they encounter a familiar face), and they are with us in the difficult moments as well. We are always there to help them, even if none of us is officially qualified to do this.
And there were the more unique moments, instances when the connection with a child with disabilities was a once-in-a- lifetime experience. There was the day the “camp”, the summer program for the class, went to the Superland amusement park. Each of us went around with one of the children with disabilities, in what was probably my most enjoyable visit to the park (well, that’s how it is when you do not have to wait in line). There was also the seminar we attended that brought together religious and secular students. One of the children slept with us in our room, and we found we had interests in common that we would not have imagined (Adele songs, etc.).
But what has been engraved more than anything in my mind, is the way the yeshiva accepted these children: with open arms, no questions asked, and support all along the way. And that’s what we have taken into our hearts.
Now that we have finished twelve years in the education system, we are leaving not only with a high school diploma but above all as human beings who accept one other and do not attach significance to the fact that some people are different. This, I think, is the real meaning of integration. This is not a question of finding a special school for children; it is the most genuine education any student in Israel can receive.
Hanan Brandes graduated from Yeshivat AMIT Kfar Ganim, Petach Tikva, where students with disabilities make up a third of the student body. The AMIT Network was awarded the 2013 Ruderman Prize in Disability for its model of inclusion at the yeshiva and other schools. Follow them on Facebook or engage them on Twitter.
Read our last post: Including Each, Strengthening All
Come visit us on Facebook to learn more about inclusion of people with disabilities