While parents take pride in their children’s achievements, few display the range of emotions that crossed the face of the mother of a young girl named Topaz on Monday at the launch of the annual appeal for ILAN, the Israel Association for Injured Children, held at the President’s Residence.
Many audience members used their cellphones to snap photos of her singing a duet with Achinoam Nini accompanied by Gili Dor on the guitar. The applause was deafening, and Topaz’s mother, with tears still coursing down her cheeks, leaned forward so that her head almost touched her lap, and buried her face in her hands.
Topaz is a special needs child, whose confidence was boosted by Nini who kept an arm around the girl’s shoulders throughout, hugged her and kissed her when it was over while Dor also hugged her and kissed her from the other side. Topaz attends Haifa’s Ofakim School for special needs children. Later in the program, she sang again but as part of the Ofakim choir that provided a backup for Nini.
For Topaz’s mother, the knowledge that her daughter could sing in front of a large audience without stumbling over the lyrics was little short of miraculous.
Established in 1952, ILAN today has 40 branches nationwide serving both adults and children whose lives are governed by a range of physical and motor disabilities, as well as various muscle and nerve diseases.
From the moment that a disability is identified, ILAN accompanies each individual for the rest of their life providing support services, therapies, assistance to special needs kindergartens, schools and institutions, and a warm, supportive home for those people with disabilities who can no longer live with their parents or other family members. ILAN also organizes social and sporting activities, youth camps, and employment training.
In previous years, the ILAN appeal, which this year takes place on March 26, was launched by the President’s wife Nechama Rivlin. As she is presently recovering from a lung transplant, President Reuven Rivlin stood in for her.
After warmly praising Topaz, and telling her that she was wonderful and had a great future, Rivlin took up the theme of this year’s ILAN campaign which is ‘We all need love’. During the past week since his wife was hospitalized, they had both been given a great lesson in love and generosity, he said. He was highly appreciative of the warmth that had enveloped them from near and far, and the professionalism of the medical team.
In this context, he spoke of the family which had made it possible for Nechama Rivlin to be the recipient of a lung donation, and said that in their pain at the loss of their son and brother, they donated his organs to save the lives of others.
Although Israel has made considerable progress regarding its attitude to people with disabilities, Rivlin emphasized a lot of work needs to be done to ensure Israel offers a place for all of them.
Relating to the upcoming national elections, Rivlin speaking specifically to the adults with disabilities said: “You have the same (voting) rights as anyone else.” He added every effort is made to ensure that polling stations are accessible to people with limited mobility.
“We talk a lot about rights,” he said. “But the most important right affecting all humanity is the right to love.”
Ehud Rassaby, the chairman of ILAN, said that from personal experience, he can vouch for the fact that in order to meet the physical and mental challenges which are part of their everyday lives, children and adults with disabilities need love. This helps to propel them forward. ILAN encourages the children in its care to spread their wings and to realize both their potential and their dreams.
A video titled Spreading their Wings featured some of the youngsters who are being taught to exercise both their physical and mental abilities, and to do things which in an earlier era would have been regarded as impossible.
The idea is to give these young people not only a sense of self-worth but also self-reliance, and the knowledge that there is meaning in their lives.
The proof of that was an appearance by Eldar Yusupov, 32, whose movements are stilted and who is unable to talk. He communicates via a voice computer. Born, in the USSR, where at the time there no facilities such as ILAN, he stayed home until he was 12 years old. That was when his family immigrated to Israel, and he went to school for the first time. He was enrolled at the Onn School in Tel Aviv, and later studied copywriting at the Tirza Granot School after which he embarked on a cinema and television course at Tel Aviv University. He has also written a book and currently works for McCann Tel Aviv, a leading advertising agency. He is married to Dina Aliyev, whom he met on Facebook, and invited her to come on a date with him. But he forgot that he’d done so, and only when she called to check, did it jog his memory. When they went out, he discovered to his chagrin that he’d forgotten his wallet. It wasn’t exactly the best start to a romance, but six months later, he and Dina got married. “We’re very happy,” he said, “and I’m still forgetting my wallet.”
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