August 25, 2015 by Howard Blas
Everyone at Camp Ramah in New England calls the elderly Israeli man in charge of our nagarut (woodworking) department â€œRon Im HaZakan,â€ Ron with the Beard. Ron has a long gray beard and has been coming to camp for many years. â€œWhere is David this year?â€ Ron asks me in Hebrew when he arrives at camp. This requires a long answer so we sit down. I explain that David and his family made Aliyah (emigrated to Israel) on December 29th. Ron chokes back tears and uses the Hebrew word â€œmirageshâ€â€”emotional, overwhelming. â€œDavid has been talking of Aliyah for so many years,â€ recalls Ron. â€œI am so happy and proud!â€
With Davidâ€™s Aliyah comes the end of a distinguished career at Camp Ramah. While David is a man of few words, he made a great impact on hundreds of campers and staff members over his 28 year tenure in the Ramah New England community. David Dalnekoff started at camp as a 13 year old camper in the Tikvah Program for campers with disabilities, and continued on to Tochnit Avodah, our vocational training program. In recent years, he has been a full time member of our summer camp staff, working in our mercaz, the mail, package and fax center. David is perhaps best known for pulling a red wagon enroute to delivering mail and packages to all buildings in campâ€”always cheerful and with a smile on his face.
During Davidâ€™s free time, he always carried a history book under his arm and made time to learn Hebrew with a member of our Israeli delegation. And he always spoke about Aliyah. Most people smiled. Few thought this would ever become a reality.
In early January, I received a photo of a smiling David on the streets of Jerusalem- a selfie sent by Devora, a former guide of several Ramah Israel Tikvah Program trips. David was a participant on the program and both were happy to see each other. Avi, a current counselor in the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, where David â€œgot his start,â€ was recently staying with his Birthright group at the Ramada hotel, and spotted David there. David is a dedicated worker in the kitchen, often asked to work overtime- beyond his already long 3 to 11 shift. Davidâ€™s parents, Stanley and Donna, who also made aliya to Jerusalem and have many friends and family members in Israel, laugh as they note how many people in Israel David knows. They include fellow Ramah staff members, tour guides and more.
Julie Zuckerman, a former counselor of Davidâ€™s in the 1980s and longtime resident of Modiin Israel, observes, â€œOne of Davidâ€™s jobs at camp is delivering the mail, which may be one of the reasons the campers are always happy to see him headed their way. But I suspect it goes deeper than that: with Davidâ€™s presence, generations of campers and counselors have learned what it means to be an inclusive community. They know that camp is a place that actively works to find a place for graduates of its special needs program, and by doing so it enriches the lives of everyone in the community.â€
David may hold the distinction of being the longest term member of the Camp Ramah in New England camper and staff community. But it is his kindness which makes him truly wonderful. He is gentle, he remembers each personâ€™s name, and he has shown the extraordinary abilities that often go hand in hand with disabilities.
When I spoke with David upon his arrival in Israel he reported, â€œI am enjoying being in Israel. Unpacked, walked around Jerusalem, tomorrow will learn about the bus and trainâ€¦â€ When I visited with David and his family in their Jerusalem apartment four months later, David was comfortable with his new homeland and neighborhoodâ€”he knew all the local synagogues, stores and the train line which gets him to and from work each day.
I pray that David can continue to show the world- now in his new homeland of Israel- the true meaning of the word â€œmenschâ€ and just what a person with disabilities is capable of accomplishing.