Aleh children at the bowling alley 521 .
(photo credit:Josh Hasten)
When Jerusalemite Alon Chasid’s son was born via a difficult delivery six-and-
a-half years ago, it looked like everything was going to be
However, several days later, doctors revealed to the family that
the baby had undergone severe trauma, including bleeding in the brain. Those
complications would lead the infant to live a life nearly completely disabled,
both mentally and physically.
Following a six-month hospital stint, the
Chasids decided to transfer their son to the Jerusalem branch of Aleh, Israel’s
largest network of residential facilities for children with severe physical and
The Chasids, realizing they could not raise their
child without full-time help, turned to Aleh, which has four “homes” throughout
the country – and a fifth currently under construction – and provides 650
children with high-level medical and rehabilitative care. Since the organization
provides its young population with care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they
decided it was their best option.
Chasid says that “on one hand you want
your child at home, but, on the other, you know it’s impossible since they need
Aleh provides a solution where families can
live with an internal peace of mind, knowing that their loved ones are getting
the best care possible.”
Giving a tour of the Jerusalem branch of Aleh,
the full-time home of Chasid’s son and 71 other physically and mentally disabled
children, Rikki Frohlich, who has been the facility’s head nurse for the past
six years and an employee of the organization for a decade, says that there are
three distinct populations under the care of her vast multidisciplinary staff,
which comprises doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers (who spend most of
their time working with families), and aides who assist in the difficult task of
feeding and bathing the children.
In the first category there are
children who were born disabled, representing around 60 percent of the home’s
population, most whom suffer from Cerebral Palsy. These children, Frohlich says,
can live long lives despite their disabilities.
The second group consists
of children born with a variety of genetic disorders, including Tay-Sachs,
Canavan disease and Rett syndrome. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for these children is not
very long. The third group consists of children who were born healthy but became
disabled after an accident – typically a bad fall, drowning or choking. Included
in this group are children who have been removed from their homes by social
services as a result of severe parental abuse that rendered them permanently
disabled and in need of full time care.
“Regardless of what category they
fall into,” says Frohlich, “our top goal here is to give these children the best
quality of life possible. We treat them like regular children.”
points out that all of the upstairs bedrooms are totally empty, as it is
midmorning and all the children are either downstairs attending the in-house
special education school or receiving a variety of necessary treatments, which
in some cases are part of the daily regimen necessary for living – akin to air,
food and water for those of us in the general population.
individual child here,” says Frohlich, “the definition of ‘quality of life’ is
different, and we build their life programs accordingly. For some children, it’s
simply assisting them to breathe, for others it’s a trip to the beach.
Regardless of their level of functioning, we believe that there are ways to
reach them and no matter how low-functioning a child might be, we believe they
understand we’re here to help them.”
During our tour, it is at times
difficult to walk in and out of the various classrooms and therapy sessions
taking place and seeing small children, and even babies, who are dependent on
advanced machinery to help them breathe, digest their food and even move their
bodies – activities that an ordinary person might take for
Frohlich admits that after her first week on the job, she wasn’t
sure she could handle such an environment, but 10 years later she is still hard
at work, fully committed to enhancing the lives of these children in
In addition to the children who live at the facilities full time,
Aleh provides thousands of outpatient sessions to kids with milder disabilities
who are able to live at home under the supervision of their
Frohlich says that in the Jerusalem center, there are 30
children who live at home but attend the Aleh special education school and
participate in various therapies or special activities every day and are thus in
the building from around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
YEHUDA MARMORSTEIN has been the
executive director of Aleh for the past 25 years, overseeing operations at all
four branches – Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Gedera and the Negev. He is now busy
supervising the construction of the fifth branch – an additional
10,000-square-meter facility in Bnei Brak due to a long waiting list for residential care in that area.
He says that Aleh, which is celebrating
its 30th year of service this year, was founded in 1982 by a group of parents in
Bnei Brak who had children who were disabled from birth or became disabled as a
result of severe accidents at home.
While the organization was founded
with a “religious agenda, meaning we adhere to the standards of Shabbat, modesty
and we are strictly kosher,” Marmorstein says that “we cater to the needs of all
populations in need in this country, religious or non-religious, Jewish or even
He says that Aleh has grown tremendously over the years
thanks to the good relationships the organization has developed with those that
have supported their efforts – including the hospitals; various government
ministries, specifically the Health Ministry and the Welfare and Social Services
Ministry; and the parents themselves, especially a group of dedicated women
volunteers who make up the Aleh Ladies’ Committee.
Susie Engel, an
immigrant from Australia, has been one of the most active members of the Ladies’
Committee for over 20 years. She says that she began to volunteer with Aleh
after learning of a horrible tragedy in which a toddler suffered severe brain
damage after being trapped and drowning in a bucket of water in his home while
his mother was washing the floor.
She, along with a group of 15 to 20
other women, organizes an annual gala in Jerusalem to benefit the
Over the years there have been dinners, concerts and other
special events with the proceeds earmarked toward helping the children of
Marmorstein says he is grateful for the annual events and other
activities organized by the Ladies’ Committee since, while government agencies
fund 70% of Aleh’s budget, the remaining 30% is brought in through private
Another dedicated volunteer who can be spotted roaming the
classrooms and corridors of the Jerusalem facility putting a smile on the faces
of Aleh children is Anchorage, Alaska resident Curtis Sparks. Sparks, who is a
devout Christian and works with disabled adults in residential facilities in his
community through an organization called Hope Community Resources, has been
coming to Israel for one month every summer for the past seven years in order to
spend time with the children of Aleh.
“These kids brighten my day,” he
“Working with the disabled, I have learned to see people for who
they are, not the way they were made.”
Curtis says he sees himself as a
“big brother” for the kids. He spends a few hours a day in the building,
“helping with arts and crafts, and just hanging out with them.” He adds that “it
is very rewarding to work with these kids and I am so thankful to have this
“Also,” he says, “I always commend the staff for the
beautiful and important work they do. They are the ones whose faces these kids
see first thing in the morning and last thing at night, so that responsibility
is so important.”
In addition to having a son living at Aleh, Chasid is
the head of the Aleh- Jerusalem branch parents’ auxiliary.
“Our task as
parents with children living here is to show our support for the faculty and
give them the motivation they need to work with our children,” he says. The
parents’ auxiliary hosts special events, such as barbecues, for the staff
throughout the year and also gives them gifts during the holidays.
don’t have the ability to give my child what he needs,” he says. “But I can help
the staffers give their best to my child.” He concludes by adding, “I couldn’t
imagine what life would be like without this place.”