‘Like Me, Like You’

Born with Down's syndrome, Kafrei got up in front of 100 people to share his thoughts about being disabled, part of a play he wrote with his 5 roommates.

Down's Syndrom guy lighting candles  311 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Down's Syndrom guy lighting candles 311
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Just a few years ago, Itamar Kafrei could not speak. Born with Down’s syndrome, he was left in the hospital by his parents who did not know how to deal with a child with disabilities. Though later adopted by a loving family, the feelings of abandonment and severe developmental disabilities kept Kafrei from expressing himself verbally.
But on Monday night at David Yellin College in Jerusalem, Kafrei got up in front of 100 people to share his thoughts about being disabled, as part of a play he had written with his five roommates.
Like Me, Like You was written through a series of therapeutic drama workshops with Alei Siach, an organization that provides independent apartments and daily activities for small groups of religious developmentally disabled men and women. The organization operates 23 apartments in Jerusalem.
“I’d rather be like everyone else,” Kafrei said in a monologue that was the highlight of the evening. “But this is how I was born, and this is how I will stay... There are things I can do and there are things I can’t do, and I have learned to be happy with what I have.”
After four days of heartbreaking news filled with smoke and funerals following the Carmel fire disaster, the evening provided moment of joy, and a reason to celebrate Alei Siach’s success. The small, homey living arrangements help the residents thrive, creating many success stories similar to Kafrei’s ability express himself so movingly after so many years of silence.
This was the first time that Alei Siach participants wrote, directed and acted in a play that was open to the public.
Musician Meir Banai donated his time and played a 45- minute acoustic set following the play.
Rabbi Haim Parkel, whose daughter has Down’s syndrome, founded Alei Siach in 1990. He was not satisfied with the opportunities available for his daughter and other developmentally disabled children and adults in the religious community. Along with a group of concerned parents of disabled children, they created the first apartment-style full-time care center for religious people with Down’s syndrome and severe autism.
Parkel’s daughter is now 32 and married to another Alei Siach participant.
The program is supported by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Welfare, and donations.
“It’s just amazing to see,” Jerusalem resident Linda Chaitowitz said. Chaitowitz is the mother of Eliezer, one of the actors and a resident of the Alei Siach apartment that performed Monday’s play.
“When he was born, the doctors said he would never develop after the age of six. It was so traumatic to hear and so far from the truth,” she said.
Eliezer, who has worked in the Knesset’s mailroom for almost four years through Alei Siach’s employment program, kicked off the event by lighting Hanukka candles. “Eliezer is probably more well-known in the Knesset than Bibi himself,” his counselor, and the evening’s MC, told the audience.
The play, a metaphorical story about an egg who looks for friends and finally learns to accept himself before he can hatch, concluded to wild applause and to giant smiles from the participants.
“I’m a famous actor!” the mother hen, an ecstatic Noam Grenseig, said immediately following the show, while graciously accepting accolades from adoring fans.
“I’m so happy, it was so good for me,” Grenseig told The Jerusalem Post. “When I am in a play, I feel like I’m flying. I love this. I’m going to be famous all over the country!”