Bereaved mother Esther Wachsman, whose son Nachshon was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in October, 1994, and killed six days later in a failed rescue operation, appealed to President Shimon Peres on Thursday to do everything in his power to bring home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
Wachsman, who heads the Nachshon Foundation, voiced her plea at Shalva's Beit Nachshon, where Peres was visiting on the occasion of the UN-declared International Day for People with Disabilities.
Prior to his death, Nachshon Wachsman frequently took his brother Raphael, who has Down's Syndrome, to Shalva for therapy and recreation. Their mother later decided that it was appropriate to keep Nachshon's memory alive through Shalva, the Association for the Mentally and Physically Challenged in Israel.
Esther Wachsman has been active and outspoken on behalf of Gilad Schalit. Last month, together with bereaved mothers Rona Ramon and Mickey Goldwasser, Wachsman wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, urging him to do his utmost to advance the homecoming of Schalit.
Fifteen years ago, said Wachsman on Thursday, she experienced the warmth and solidarity of the nation when confronting her own tragedy.
Beit Nachshon, in addition to carrying on the memory of her son, symbolizes the love of Israel for Nachshon, she said.
Wachsman said she remembered how parents used to isolate their children from Raphael when they saw him in the park. It was as if they were afraid that Down's Syndrome was contagious. She had been so glad, she said, when she discovered Shalva.
Peres expressed appreciation for the work done by Shalva, sat in on a Shalva music lesson and danced and sang with children with special needs while their teachers, therapists and parents beamed with delight.
He also spoke to children and their parents, especially to Yossi Samuels, who was the inspiration for Shalva. The son of Kalman and Malka Samuels, Yossi was a normal baby, but a vaccination he received just before he was a year old left him blind, deaf and hyperactive. His parents took him to New York, where they enrolled him in Manhattan's Lighthouse for the Blind. The experiences they had with him there left them exhausted. They were also homesick for Israel, and they realized that Yossi was not the only Israeli child facing challenges such as his.
In 1990, they launched Shalva, which over the years has become an internationally acclaimed facility based not only on state of the art therapies but on love.
Yossi, whose father acted as his interpreter, had three wishes. One was to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Another was that the government of Israel deal with the Iranian threat, and the third was to join other Israelis in the March of the Living through Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Peres promised to help realize those ambitions, telling Yossi that he admired his strength and determination and the efforts that he made to communicate with people around him.
Peres said that all those who are critical of Israel should come to Shalva to see what is being achieved there. He told Wachsman that he was very much aware of what her family had suffered and he could only imagine what a joy it must be to her as a mother to see Raphael smiling and flourishing.