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Israel unbound!

A trip to the Jewish homeland makes everything possible for adults with disabilities

Erica Steen, Director of Community Engagement
Edlavitch DCJCC

For many Jews, going to Israel is a rite of passage. But what if you are wheelchair bound, you use a walker, or have a learning disability? All of these things might deter you from attending a traditional tour group. In May, the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC changed that for 11 individuals and their nine companions from the DC metro area. And all I have to say is— it was AMAZING!

DCJCC_9On May 15, 2016 twenty participants and two Edlavitch DCJCC staff traveled to Israel. The first stop on our journey was the Neot Kedumim Park where we each had the chance to plant a tree. I don’t know about you, but after buying a dozen trees in honor or in memory of someone and six previous trips to Israel, I’ve never had the chance to plant a tree myself and neither had anyone else in the group. The feeling was overwhelming for all of us. A wonderful welcome to Israel!

“After hearing all my life about Israel, ranging from biblical stories about our ancestors to political and social events that transpired over the past century, seeing the country first hand brings it all to life and has so much more meaning than simply a place that you hear constantly about,“ says Morris Turner, one of the participants.

A few members of the group had been to Israel before, but their wheelchairs had hindered their travel. With the help of JCC Association’s Boarding Pass program, not only was our trip accessible to all of our participants, but also it was above and beyond any trip I’d been on before. The group was able to do most of the things you’d typically do on a trip to Israel. We visited the Kotel by going around to the back accessible entrance. We went to the Israel Museum after a bit of curb meandering and “hiked” Masada by way of the cable car.

“When I found out that the JCC was sponsoring an Israel tour specifically for adults with disabilities, I was so excited,” says Mark Paris. “Just the thought that my adult daughter would have this fabulous opportunity, and that she would be supported by caring professionals made it such an easy decision!”

The group also had the opportunity to do a few things none of us had done before (especially those with physical limitations) including the chance to fly through the air on a ropes course with Etgarim, take a boat ride on the Kinneret and meet some of the men and women in the Israeli’s Special in Uniform program. We worked as a team to get everyone into the Dead Sea, made music at a drum circle and helped feed the working poor through Pantry Packers.

“Having the opportunity to visit the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Masada and to float in the Dead Sea was awe-inspiring,” says Dick Pawliger, who attended with his wife Nancy. “ It allowed us to combine our knowledge of Jewish history with current experiences.  We appreciated the forethought and preparation that was taken by the organizers and guide to ensure that the trip was accessible for people with disabilities.”

This trip was one-of-its-kind and I hope that it’s not the last. Whether again through the Edlavitch DCJCC or at your JCC, this is a chance to truly be inclusive and give everyone a gateway to Israel.


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