The challenge – and beauty – of very special children

1974. That long-ago summer spent as a kibbutz volunteer was experienced with every one of my senses: the sight of the orchard where we – a group of university students visiting from Argentina – were put to work; the smell of fresh-picked oranges; the sounds of shouting and singing; and the feeling of my exhausted muscles at the end of a hard day.
Ironically, that sensory-rich summer – which convinced me that my future lay not in my native Argentina, but rather in Israel – was what opened the door to a long career devoted to helping children who cannot experience the world the way most people do. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My friends packed their bags and flew back to Argentina. After waving them off at the airport, I charted a new course as an olah chadasha – a new immigrant. Although I had already begun my academic training in the field of psychology, I switched over to social work. A few years later, clutching my freshly-printed diploma, I took up my first professional job: as a temporary, replacement social worker in a day care center for children with disabilities.
The Challenge Begins
Having never been exposed to this population before, I must admit I was shocked. The Center catered to young people between the ages of six and 18, with serious physical and cognitive disabilities. Although my job assignment had me working with parents and staff, rather than with the children, I still found the new environment emotionally draining. How, I asked myself, could I survive a single day working in this environment, much less complete my scheduled six months?
Flash forward. A month later, I was happily enjoying my lunch hour together with the children whose challenges had so alarmed me when I first arrived. Not only had I gotten used to these children – and come to appreciate their quiet heroism – I had developed a strong admiration for the Center’s dedicated staff.
Even more so, I fell completely in love with the children’s parents – who gave me an important life lesson in unconditional love. I was deeply moved by how they connected with their children. Even if their sons and daughters could not control their movement, speak or express emotion, these parents gave love, love and more love… and expected nothing in return.
I was inspired. And I knew that working with the parents of disabled children would be my life’s work.
Making “Kesher”– Connection
As I continued to gather professional experience as a social worker and therapist, I realized there was the need for a supporting organization that would help parents of disabled children. I founded a non-profit called Kesher that connected parents with everything they needed: from therapeutic intervention for children, to counseling for themselves, to up-to-date and authoritative information for everyone involved in caring for this special population. I served as Kesher’s executive director for 20 years.
A New Direction – Keren Or
Now, after a long career, I’m excited to be taking a new step: to work, not only with parents and staff, but with disabled children themselves. I recently became a senior consultant at Keren Or, the only school in Israel that specializes in the care of children and young adults who are blind or visually impaired, and also have additional physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities. I am proud to be part of Keren Or, a “ray of light” for families seeking integrated, professional therapeutic intervention that embraces, not what children can or should be, but what they are: beautiful souls who are worthy of every bit of our respect and love.
In this blog, I look forward to bringing you some of the inspiring stories that my colleagues and I at Keren Or experience every day. Believe me, the teamwork shouldered by Keren Or’s staff, parents and – of course – the children themselves, is a sight to behold.