“This evening we celebrate 25 years of changing lives, and bringing hope and love to the SHALVA children and their families,” SHALVA founder and chairman Rabbi Kalman Samuels told an audience in Modi’in on Monday night.Samuels was addressing some 1,000 invited guests at a gala dinner at the HaAchuza hall to mark the silver jubilee of SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel.Samuels recalled how he and his wife, Malki, had decided to establish SHALVA seven years after their 11-month-old son Yossi, who had become blind and deaf after receiving a faulty DPT vaccination in Jerusalem, broke through “his barriers of darkness and silence, and miraculously learned to communicate via sign language and speech.”Relating to the dreams of Joseph in the Bible, Samuels said they could never have dreamed that one day, their Yossi (who is now 38) would be hosted by the American president, the British prime minister, as well as ride horses and elephants.“We could not dream that he would become an inspiration for many, and even lecture to the graduating class of the Israel Air Force,” Samuels said. “When we established SHALVA with six children in 1990, we were overwhelmed and never dreamed we would develop into an internationally acclaimed, award-winning organization that helps children and families from birth to adulthood, from the entire spectrum of Israeli society.”SHALVA has witnessed extraordinary growth in the last 25 years, and this year provided comprehensive disability services to more than 500 babies, children and young adults with special needs. Samuels said he was looking forward to the much-anticipated opening in September of a huge campus called the SHALVA National Children’s Center in the heart of Jerusalem.Samuels paid tribute to all those who support SHALVA, including the Israeli board under its chairman, Udi Savion, as well as its guest of honor from New York, Leon Wagner, the co-chairman of American Friends of SHALVA, its president emeritus, Hillel Weinberger, and Esther Wachsman, whose son, Nachshon, was murdered by terrorists in 1994 while serving in the IDF. SHALVA has named its current facilities in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, Beit Nachshon, in his memory.“I have another son, Rephael, who has Down Syndrome,” Wachsman said. “In the tumultuous weeks surrounding Nachshon’s capture and the period of shiva that struck the heart of the entire Jewish people, SHALVA’s chairman, Kalman Samuels, personally came to our home and took Rephael into his care. SHALVA has been raising the banner of hope, love and support for 25 years. Yet in light of the current struggles that our people face at home and abroad, these eternal messages must shine brighter than ever before.”Wagner called it a milestone event providing an extraordinary opportunity for reflection.“When we reflect on SHALVA’s journey, we learn and re-learn the powerful lesson of what can be accomplished when the heart and mind are driven to do something good,” he said.The audience was treated to a musical performance of the opening song from The Lion King by the SHALVA Band dressed up as jungle animals, as well as entertainment by singer Moshe Peretz and mind reader Lior Suchard. Among the attendees were many leaders of the country’s financial sector, including National Insurance Institute director Shlomo Mor-Yosef, and Gilad Schalit, who was in Hamas captivity for five years and is now a volunteer for SHALVA.