This summer I had the privilege to go on Yad B’Yad, Yachad’s Inclusive Israel Leadership Experience. Yad B’Yad is a five-week program that travels around Israel with people who have special needs. This program teaches each participant how to create a proactively inclusive environment both on Yad B’Yad, and in each of our own communities back home.
Walking in on the first day of camp was very intimidating. There were so many people from many different places; not being from New York or New Jersey, I thought I would feel like an out of towner, but I could not have been more wrong. Everyone took the learning sessions and sensitivity training to heart and after a couple of days, I felt like I had known everyone my whole life.
My favorite part about the program is explaining to people why Yad B’Yad is not a chesed (kindness) based, volunteer program. We did no view hanging out with our friends as volunteer work, the kids with special needs were our friends. Everything we did was accessible, we stayed in the same rooms as them, and just hung out.
Yad B’Yad was not just traveling and touring. We also had many learning sessions led by the amazing counselors. We learned what it means to truly find yourself in genuine happiness, how to be more inclusive, and how to connect to God. Through those learning groups and talking to the counselors and participants I created connections with, I grew both as a person and as a friend. I will never forget the lessons I learned on this program such as; giving someone a fifteen second summary of what you were talking about when they enter a conversation and always having an empty spot in a circle, so everyone feels comfortable joining.
Unfortunately, every program comes to an end. Through the laughter and cheers, I can honestly feel the motto of Yachad, “Because everyone belongs,” becoming my favorite quote. I will aim see everyone for who they are on the inside instead of what I see or hear about them I learned despite our differences that everyone truly does belong.
Pelah Cohen is a Junior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy and is going to be taking the lessons she learned from Yad B’Yad back to her school. Throughout the year, she will also be involved with Yachad as president of the High School board, helping plan and run events for the highschool peers and members with special needs. Pelah hopes to go to more international Yachad events and shabbatons year-round.
We are proud to offer Israel Experience Merit Scholarships to high school students through age 23 who display leadership abilities and are committed to Jewish communal activities. Anyone going on a summer or fall/academic year program are eligible to apply each spring. For more information, please visit our website or contact Paula Harris at Paulaharris@juf.org
Looking for opportunities to go to Israel? Masa can help you get there - for more information contact Alissa Brown at Alissabrown@juf.org