The new Shalva National Centre in Jerusalem officially opened on April 27. (photo from Shalva)
History was made on April 27, when hundreds of friends and donors traveled from around the world to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the grand opening of the new Shalva National Centre. The day began with a rendition of “To Dream the Impossible Dream.”
“I fell in love with the concept that Shalva represents,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. “It is an icon and a role model for the world. Shalva has shown innovation in dealing with children with disabilities and I believe it will create ripple effects around the world.”
Leslie and Gordon Diamond, who dedicated the centre, flew in from Vancouver with family and friends. In addition, they dedicated the Steven Diamond Sports and Wellness Centre in memory of their son, Steven. With its semi-Olympic pool, large therapy pool, fitness centre and gymnasium, it is a significant gift of wellness to the Shalva children, their families and the broader community. Also dedicated was the Shalva Inclusive Parks in memory of Ambassador Ronald E. Arnall.
“Shalva epitomizes tikkun olam, making the world a better place and respect for family dignity. I am sure that Shalva will serve as the gold standard in its field for many years to come,” said Gordon Diamond. “For me and my family, it is an amazing honour to help this institution. Imperfection is inevitable in this world. We cannot make this a perfect world, but this is where society can shine. There is no more shining model than Shalva.”
“We have built a centre of excellence, full of colour, a magical place for the children of Shalva,” said Shalva chairman Avi Samuels. “We are humbled to open this state-of-the-art facility.”
MK Chaim Katz said, “This is a huge day of giving. There’s so much heart and so much soul. I am bursting with pride to know that these world-class facilities are available right here in the state of Israel.”
The ribbon-breaking ceremony began with the sounding of 10 shofars. Barkat said, “When people come to the city of Jerusalem, they ask me what they should see. I tell them to go see the City of David so they see their roots. And then I tell them to go and see Shalva. People who enter this centre do not go out the same people. This place changes them.”
Kalman Samuels, who founded Shalva 27 years ago with his wife Malki when their infant son became blind and deaf following a faulty vaccination, thanked the audience of philanthropists, dignitaries and well-wishers. He said, “Your boundless love and your selfless care for your brothers and sisters with disabilities makes this earthly site heavenly.
I have gratitude to the Almighty and gratitude to each of you who continue to impact precious lives.”
A 6-year-old Shai Gross with his family in 1976, after the successful Entebbe Operation. (photo from Shalva)
Seeing is believing. At first, it sounds like another cliché, another pat answer to brush off an unwanted question. But, sometimes in life, we are put in situations where our power to overcome must be seen to be believed. Last month, guests at the Shalva 26th anniversary dinner in Israel were able to see for themselves how the human spirit can overcome unbelievable odds.
The youngest of the hostages in the 1976 Entebbe Operation, Shai Gross, stood before the guests at the dinner. His presence itself was a testament to the power of human beings to do the unbelievable.
“When I was 6, my parents and I were among the hostages,” he said. “For a full week, we sat, captives in Entebbe, with pistols and grenades threatening our lives. The terrorists separated the children into business class [on the captured plane] to avoid parents acting up in defence of their children. My mother, however, was able to hide me under her seat. I was only 6 yet I remember asking her, ‘Does dying hurt?’”
The Entebbe Operation is forever marked in the collective Jewish consciousness. On June 27, 1976, four terrorists hijacked Flight 139 en route from Tel Aviv to Paris. They were armed with pistols and a grenade with the pin removed, which they held as insurance against being attacked by the passengers. The flight was diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the government supported the hijackers. All non-Jewish passengers were released while more than 100 Jewish passengers were held, fearing for their lives.
The horrifying ordeal came to an end on July 4, when the Israel Defence Forces launched a rescue mission. In what is still considered by many to be the most daring hostage rescue mission of all time, a group of Israeli commandos stormed the complex.
Gross recounted the last few moments before they were rescued, “All we heard were gun shots. I was paralyzed with fear. At the time, the only possible explanation to the insanity was that they were coming to finally end our lives. How could it even enter anyone’s mind that the IDF had made it all the way to distant Entebbe?!”
The rescue that was underway seemed totally unbelievable until Gross saw it with his own eyes. “After a few moments, we realized that we were being rescued by the IDF. That dramatic rush from desperation to salvation … that is a joy I will never forget.”
Nonetheless, Gross acknowledged, “This traumatic experience left its mark on me. I was emotionally disabled.”
Having personally experienced how a child can overcome challenges that would try an adult, he has added empathy for the children of Shalva, where he volunteers. He contributes to Shalva in an effort to give back to Israel, and in memory of the soldiers who gave their lives to save his.
The moment when the unbelievable happens before your very eyes, when the darkness is suddenly transformed to light, is a familiar occurrence in the Shalva centre in Jerusalem. For 26 years, Shalva has been helping children with special needs move beyond their limitations. Shalva programs and services are designed to provide individual treatment for the child while also strengthening the fabric of the family. Providing services for more than 500 infants, children and young adults, Shalva accompanies each child from birth to adulthood. Individually tailored programs are designed to help participants reach their full potential and integrate into the community.
As a volunteer, Gross sees how Shalva’s approach helps kids meet their challenges. “Shalva doesn’t see children with disabilities,” he said. “No. They see superheroes that just need to conquer some challenges. After volunteering at Shalva myself, I have come to realize that we’re all the same: potential heroes trying to overcome our struggles.”
Gross has moved past the scars of his experience in Entebbe. He married and is the father of four children. He named his youngest son Yoni in memory of Yoni Netanyahu, the rescue team’s commander and the older brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was killed in the raid.
At the Shalva dinner, Gross was awarded with the Shalva Spirit of Hope Award in recognition of how he has met his personal challenges and used that experience to help others.
To learn more about the work of Shalva, visit shalva.org.
This coming October, some 30 Jews from around the world will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Jerusalem. (photo from SHALVA)
Scaling the largest free-standing mountain in the world is a remarkable accomplishment. A test to human endurance and tenacity. Raising a special needs child can require the same tenacity.
This October, some 30 Jews from around the world will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for SHALVA, the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Jerusalem – helping the parents and kids of SHALVA scale their own personal “mountains.”
With participants from Canada and as far away as the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, the climb has attracted an eclectic group of trekkers all bound together with a common goal. The group spans the spectrum of the Jewish community from secular to ultra-Orthodox. Each one has their own reasons for choosing to reach beyond their limits to do something incredible.
“Everyone at SHALVA is touched that so many SHALVA supporters have come together to climb for one cause,” said trip coordinator Gaby Hirsch. “What started as a U.K. initiative became a global effort as the unique opportunity captured imaginations around the world.”
To make the trip as inclusive as possible, organizers decided to make it adhere to the highest possible standards of Jewish law. The trek is serving vegetarian food and the organizers have purchased new cooking and eating utensils. On the seventh day of the trek, the group will rest for Shabbat on Mt. Kilimanjaro, allowing them to join millions of Jews around the world in keeping Shabbat as part of the Shabbos Project. While no participant is required to keep Shabbat, by making the trip adhere to the most stringent feasible level of Jewish observance, all climbers are able to maintain their own comfort level.
Photographer Sarah Raanan was looking for a challenge, a chance to push herself, but it was learning about SHALVA that made her sign up. “As soon as I found out about SHALVA, I knew I had to do this,” she explained. “The first video I watched just blew me away.”
Raanan is not the first one to be impressed by the scope of the SHALVA Centre. For 25 years, SHALVA has been helping children with special needs move beyond their limitations. SHALVA programs and services are designed to provide individual treatment for the child while also strengthening the fabric of the family. Providing services for more than 500 infants, children and young adults, SHALVA accompanies each child from birth to adulthood. Individually tailored programs are designed to help participants reach their full potential and integrate into the community.
Claire Freeman from London saw for herself the life-changing work SHALVA does when she lived in Israel. “There’s not a place in the world that does what they do. But they can’t do it alone,” she said. As a mother of three, Freeman is grateful that her children can run and play. She wanted to show them that even when you are born with the gift of being able-bodied, life is about pushing yourself to go beyond your own limitations.
Having positive impacts on their children is a common theme for participants, as is slight apprehension at leaving a brood at home.
Shoshana Baker, originally from Teaneck, N.J., but now living in Ra’anana, Israel, was unsure whether she would do the climb despite being attracted by the challenge. “At first, I thought no way, it’s too hard to leave my children. Then I realized that it was an incredible lesson for them.” Baker decided to teach by example the importance of dedicating oneself to a worthy cause.
Toronto native Helen Silverstein wanted to do something meaningful for her 60th birthday. “I wanted to do it because the kids at SHALVA can’t.” Looking to avoid a flurry of birthday cards and gifts she didn’t need, she was happy to have her friends and family sponsor her to climb.
Every climber has pledged to raise $10,000. Each one has found his or her own unique methods of raising money, from running an “Auction of Promises” to sponsored paragliding. The money raised is helping to fund SHALVA’s National Centre, due to open in Jerusalem next year. This state-of-the-art facility will enable SHALVA to expand its services to offer treatment to four times as many children.
The would-be trekkers are not without their apprehensions, and for good reason – in the course of nine days they will hike approximately 100 kilometres. Trekking through five different ecosystems, participants will be pushing their personal endurance to the limit. One of the biggest risks is altitude sickness. This condition occurs when the body responds badly to the reduced level of oxygen present at higher altitudes. Climbers are warned to watch out for headaches, dizziness and nausea.
John Corre, a grandfather of nine, is participating to celebrate his 70th birthday. Despite the extreme physical exertion, he is not fazed by the length of the climb. His biggest fear is the possibility of altitude sickness because there is no way of knowing before the climb how the altitude will affect an individual.
One climber not daunted by overcoming extreme odds is Jerusalem resident Rachel Illouz, a breast cancer survivor. As she was going through the surgery and chemotherapy, she kept telling herself that one day she would climb a mountain. In her own words, “As soon as I found out about the SHALVA climb, I said to myself ‘That is my mountain.’”
Just as SHALVA has brought together people from across Israeli society, united by the desire to give all kids the best start in life, so now SHALVA is bringing together Jews from every possible walk of life to continue that vital work. This unique trip shows us how we are all climbing mountains of one variety or another in our lives, and reminds us that it is incumbent upon us to reach out our hands and help the other up.