A vacation village for children with serious or life threatening illnesses to find some respite from their troubles was the dream of Hollywood legend Paul Newman.
On Sunday, that dream was realized in Israel too when a sprawling 60 acre campus overlooking the Yavne’el valley in the Galilee was inaugurated by some of the country’s most high-profile politicians, philanthropists and health professionals, as well as Israel’s own legendary actor, Chaim Topol.
“I am excited to be here and feel extremely proud of the dedication and goodwill of the team, that spent so many years making this dream village come true,” Topol, who is chairman of the board for the Jordan River Village, told those gathered at the opening ceremony.
Topol said he was inspired to become involved in this project more than 10 years ago after hearing about Newman’s work in the US.
Newman, who died four years ago, established the SeriousFun Children’s Network for children with serious illnesses and life threatening conditions in 1988. His ideas have led to the establishment of an international organization and a chain of such villages, which the Newman family continues to support.
“I hope that every child in Israel who needs this will come,” Topol told The Jerusalem Post following the ceremony, which included Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon and philanthropist Sherry Arrison.
Topol said with such support, he was confident that the village would not have a problem finding additional funding because “those who were here saw how valuable this project is.” Thus far, funding has come from individual donors in Israel and worldwide, as well as from the government and the Lower Galilee municipality.
The Jordan River Village opened its doors nearly a year ago but just for small groups of children and with limited facilities. Now it is fully operational, Topol said. Throughout the course of the year, the vacation village – which will allow children to stay for up to one week at a time for free – hopes to receive as many as 3,000. Children will be referred via the hospitals where they receive treatment, from nonprofit organizations and through individual applications.
“The place will be open to every child who needs it,” Topol explained, adding that even children of different nationalities who are receiving medical treatments in Israel, including those from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, will have the opportunity to spend time at the village.
According to information provided by the village, the project has taken nearly 10 years to complete and involved a complicated process of planning and building, designed to ensure its “ideal functionality for children with a variety of needs.”
Among its attractions, the village boasts a one-of-a kind extreme sports park, fully adapted to the needs of children in wheelchairs, as well as a zip line, a climbing wall and rope bridges. Children also get the chance to experience many more exciting challenges and extreme sports despite some of their disabilities.
In addition, the village will soon have a special therapeutic indoor heated swimming pool, an accessible gym and a video arcade. Those who come to the village will be able to enjoy special therapeutic horse riding lessons and a variety of healing activities that include contact with animals and pets and art therapy.