Special Needs

Original article published in the JNS

Ronen Bar-Abraham, director of Adraba-The Shirley Lowy Center for Children with Disabilities, says it was founded “to fulfill an unmet need in Israel.”

Two 13-year-olds with autism—surrounded by family, teachers, guests and Rabbi Mikie Goldstein—celebrated their b’nai mitzvah during a special Thursday-morning musical Shacharit service at the Adat Shalom–Emanuel in Rehovot, Israel. Aviv and Yair put on tefillin, carried the Torah scroll, and recited the Torah blessings and prayers with the help of an augmented communication device. The bar mitzvah took place on May 26 as part of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement’s Adraba center, which has been developing and conducting bar and bat mitzvah programs for children with disabilities for more than 25 years now. To date, more than 5,000 children have taken part in the program.

It continues to be a busy season for participants in the program. From Akko to Haifa, Karmiel, Kfar Vradim and the egalitarian area of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 100-plus teens with disabilities from families of all backgrounds and levels of observance will celebrate b’nai mitzvah at 20 venues between March 24 and the end of June.

According to Ronen Bar-Abraham, director of Adraba-The Shirley Lowy Center for Children With Disabilities, the bar and bat mitzvah program was founded “to fulfill an unmet need in Israel.” Bar-Abraham is proud of the program and its commitment to serve the needs of all Israelis. “The Masorti movement believes that every Jew with disabilities or challenges is a full and equal member of Klal Yisrael and should be included in a minyan as is every Jew.”

Aviv carries the Torah at his bar mitzvah in Rehovot, Israel, on May 26, 2022. Photo by Howard Blas.

Goldstein, the English-born rabbi who moved to Israel in 1989 and has been leading Adat Shalom-Emanuel since 2014, appreciates the unique nature of the program. “It is a rare chance for these children and families to celebrate a Jewish life-cycle event they might not otherwise have thought possible,” he said.

He appreciates that the students come from “all sorts of religious and non-religious backgrounds—from Orthodox to completely secular to celebrate together” and believes “the program shows that pluralism can exist.”

‘It is inspiring every time’

The special day started with Bar-Abraham welcoming the 40 family members, teachers and guests and putting them at ease. “Shalom and mazal tov to all who enter! You can sit where you want—men and women together.” He also reminded excited guests to hold off on showering the b’nai mitzvah with candy until they finish leading the service and reading from the Torah.

Adraba staff shared a PowerPoint and video of the program, which described the curriculum and preparation process for the more than 200 students enrolled in 30 Israeli schools.

Ruth Rubin Lavie, who came on aliyah in 1978, began playing “Hinei Mah Tov” on her guitar. She is a congregant, b’nai mitzvah teacher and singer who regularly volunteers her musical talents by accompanying on guitar at the services. “It is inspiring every time to see the happiness of kids coming to the Torah and of parents’ kvelling,” she said.

Guests used the red, hardcover B’chol D’rachecha accessible siddur, for which the Adraba Center and the Masorti Movement have received awards from the Shalem Foundation (2010) and JDC-Ashalim. The siddur utilizes simple explanations, various colors and fonts, and picture icons that assist those unable to read standard Hebrew.

Ruth Rubin Lavie played “Hinei Mah Tov” at the ceremony on May 26, 2022. Photo by Howard Blas.

Throughout the entire service, Aviv and Yair’s teachers patiently stood next to them with smiles on their faces. The teachers helped their students remain on task and facilitated student reading and singing with their augmented communication devices.

The service kicked off with the young men offering personal blessings. “Thank you, God, for giving me the ability to smile and be with my family.”

Goldstein and the teachers consistently modeled sensitivity, respect and inclusivity for all participants and guests. Prior to the central Amidah prayer, Goldstein asked: “Those who are able, please stand.” When the b’nai mitzvah boys had difficulties remaining at the bimah, a staff member seamlessly walked with them around the room until they were ready to return to the service.

Each boy was called to the Torah by name to recite the Torah blessings. Goldstein served as the Torah reader. Yair’s mother, Iris Elkobi, addressed her son, saying “despite the challenges, you are a leader in all areas. … Your dream is to be a millionaire—always listen to your dreams!”

Iris added, “This program is so special. It is a big mitzvah. The bar mitzvah is important for him and for the family, too.”

His father, Chaim, is proud of all five of his sons, but noted that this bar mitzvah was particularly miragesh, “emotional” in Hebrew. He elaborated, “It was so special seeing Yair in his tefillin. Today is a d’var kadosh—‘a holy event.’ ”

Yair reads Hebrew at his bar mitzvah in Rehovot, Israel, on May 26, 2022. Photo by Howard Blas.

Yair’s school bus driver, Aron, grew emotional when he described the significance of the bar mitzvah. “This program is more important than tanks and missiles,” he said, acknowledging the amount of money Israel spends on defense while also emphasizing the need for ongoing funding to support the b’nai mitzvah program.

At the end of the service, Yair and Aviv received their own personalized copy of the siddur, as well as personalized blessings from parents and teachers. The ceremony took place under a large tallit. The young men were then showered with candy, lovingly tossed by kvelling guests.

The celebration continued with a festive breakfast of bread, salads, cakes and pastries outside in the synagogue’s specially decorated garden.

As the guests said their final “Mazal Tovs,” Adir and Yair left to return to school. The Adraba staff now turned their attention to the 20 students looking forward to celebrating their same milestone before the school year ends. In a few months, it will be time to begin preparing even more Israelis with disabilities for their special days.

The red, hardcover accessible siddur, used by the boys at the ceremony in Rehovot, Israel. Photo by Howard Blas.
The bar mitzvah venue, Adat Shalom–Emanuel in Rehovot, Israel, on May 26, 2022. Photo by Howard Blas.
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Original Article on The LookStein Center

When the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in Glen Spey, New York began including campers with disabilities in 1970, it began attracting campers and families from a range of Jewish backgrounds—from unaffiliated to Hasidic. At the time, there were no other summer camp options for Jewish children and young adults with disabilities. More options exist nowadays to serve campers with a wide range of disabilities. And they continue to attract campers from families with diverse backgrounds. In a Jewish summer camp context, an Orthodox male rabbi and a female Reconstructionist rabbi sit together and talk—not about God, Kashrut or Shabbat, but they can speak—parent to parent—about autism and vocational training.

Opportunities exist beyond the camping world for Jews of diverse streams and backgrounds to meet, interact and share openly. Specialized Jewish day schools are uniquely positioned to offer even more than camps in terms of Jewish learning and services to parents and families—all year round. The Shefa School in New York City is a model of Jewish day school which offers a unique educational approach to learners from diverse family backgrounds.

The Shefa School reports that it is a Jewish community day school serving students in grades 1-8 who benefit from a specialized educational environment in order to develop their strengths while addressing their learning challenges. All students at Shefa have language-based learning disabilities and have not yet reached their potential levels of success in traditional classroom settings. Many students have started out at other Jewish day schools which may be more in line with the family’s religious outlook. They have come to Shefa in search of a school that understands their child’s learning needs, and often to help restore their self-esteem.

Shefa is proud to call itself “a pluralistic community school serving families across the range of Jewish involvement and observance.” The name “Shefa” which means “abundance” was chosen because “we believe that our students possess an abundance of unique gifts, talents, skills, and insights. Our job is to nourish them emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

Founder and head of the 143 student school, Ilana Ruskay-Kidd stresses the need to always be “open and reflective” and notes that the school is “always a work in progress.” She tries hard to create an environment where everyone feels they can come and talk about anything. On the school’s website, under FAQ’s the question of “What is the Jewish orientation of the school?” is addressed as follows: “The Shefa School is a pluralistic community school, seeking to serve families across the Jewish spectrum. Our goal is to make Shefa a welcoming place that integrates rich Jewish values, community, culture, traditions, and holidays — regardless of each family’s particular practice or affiliation. We serve only kosher food and observe all holidays in accordance with the Jewish calendar. Shefa nurtures our students’ commitment to Jewish values and teaches the skills to enable them to participate fully in Jewish life.”

Schools like Shefa require a dedication, self-reflection, and diplomacy. Despite a great deal of forethought, and the best of efforts to anticipate situations which might arise, issues small and seemingly large arise from time to time. These issues are actually opportunities in disguise as they force community members, teachers and administrators to be honest and communicative, and to consider what is and isn’t negotiable. One time, a mother from a very traditional background asked Ruskay-Kidd, “If we are uncomfortable with the Jewish Studies, can we pull our daughter out?” Ruskay-Kidd offered a calculated, thoughtful reply. Learning Jewish Studies together was non-negotiable, but she encouraged the mother to come talk to her about what was making her uncomfortable.

One family asked if Shefa offers a Sephardic minyan. While the school at first didn’t want to “keep separating” the students, they realized the family had a valid point. “The school is probably one third Sephardic,” notes Ruskay-Kidd, “and most of our tunes were Ashkenazic.” The school brought in a person to teach the whole school about Sephardic liturgy and to introduce Sephardic tunes. “Every synagogue has slightly different melodies… Our goal is to be flexible.” The school itself has evolved and now offers a range of tefillah options including mehitza, no mehitza, learners and meditation/exploratory prayer options.

Ruskay-Kidd is pleased as she observes, “We live happily and peacefully together. In a given week, we don’t usually see issues. In a year, we might.” Many likely-to-arise situations, though not all, are addressed in advance: Kashrut (strictly kosher, nationally accepted supervisions, but not Halav Yisrael), kipot; (“we spent so much time on this one—they are strongly encouraged; default is to put it on; one or two have philosophical complaints; and kipot sometimes fall off of heads!” Ruskay-Kidd reports that all wear kipot for Limudei Kodesh and estimates that 50% wear kipot all day long); dress (“kids dress how their community dresses;” requirement is dark bottoms—skirt or pants, no tank tops).

Yet, “situations” do come up—sometimes “caused” quite innocently by families and sometimes even by the school. On one occasion, a non-Sabbath observant family (likely quite innocently) scheduled a bar mitzvah reception which started before Shabbat was over. On another occasion, the school inadvertently almost caused an uncomfortable situation for some students around a seemingly fabulous-for-all community service opportunity. Students had the chance to volunteer at a very established program four blocks from the school which serves 1000 meals a day. But it took place in a church—which was problematic for some families. The school sensitively began to offer this as one of several community service options.

Other issues which may arise in a school like Shefa: teaching Torah (“How we teach the meaning of Vayomer Hashem”), science (“Are dinosaurs real?”) and health education (“Can you opt out?” “Why do boys have to learn about girls’ bodies?”).

Each situation which arises offers opportunities for reflection, problem solving and honest communication. The head of school can’t assume everyone is familiar with “basic” words like shalakh manos (food gifts sent on Purim); at the same time, over-translating may make some more traditional families question just “how Jewish” the school is!

Sometimes the students themselves are the best problem solvers. One traditional student was feeling uncomfortable with a morning greeting ritual which involved students either handshaking or fist bumping the student next to him. He was worried that he may not always be next to a boy and was uncomfortable with the possibility of having this exchange with a girl. While his parents didn’t find this to be problematic halachically, the boy told his parents one evening that it was a “big problem” for him. His parents spoke with him about perhaps explaining his “family tradition” with the class” and waving to a girl who might be sitting next to him. Within seconds, he was already planning (with minimal coaching!) what he was going to tell his classmates. Problem solved!

Ruskay-Kidd reflects on each of these situations and playfully recalls the well-known saying about pluralism. “That is when all of us are comfortable most of the time—but none of us are comfortable all of the time.” Shefa families are clearly happy, and they are emissaries for the school in their respective, diverse communities across the New York tristate area. “It is so inspiring and moving to watch what it means to love your child. The distance they travel…all (of what seems at first to be) barriers…they all disappear!”

Settings like Camp Ramah and the Shefa School demonstrate that it is indeed possible to foster relationships between Jews of diverse backgrounds. Early childhood program and pluralistic day schools are similarly making strides to bring together all kinds of learners and families. Hillel and Limmud and various cross-denominational rabbinic encounter programs AJWS (American Jewish World Service), AIPAC and the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative show what can be accomplished with diverse groups of adults.

Jewish adults coming together goes back to the 600,000 plus who assembled at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah and continued with Jews coming together around such large issues as the plight of Soviet Jewry (250,000 demonstrated on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Sunday, December 6, 1987) and recently in solidarity with the people of Pittsburgh.

Let us continue to strive to develop models of assembling, learning, communicating and sharing in even more Jewish settings.

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Original Article Published On The Chabad.ORG

“Hello, welcome to ZABS Place! My name is Aaron.”

Aaron Roochvarg sports an award-winning smile. He’s there at the door, enthusiastically greeting customers when they enter the store and asking if they need any assistance finding items.

“How did you hear about ZABS Place?” he asks.

“I’ve been here a few times,” reports the customer. “Thank you, Aaron, for all of your help!”

“You are very welcome!” comes the reply.

It’s just a few minutes after 10 a.m. (opening time) and a stream of people file into ZABS Place in the charming town of Matthews, a 20-minute drive from Charlotte, N.C. There is a buzz around town about the quality and selection of clothing, books, games, toys, home goods, handbags, greeting cards and more at this thrift boutique that opened nearly three years ago.

It’s obvious that the selection of merchandise is excellent. But it doesn’t take long for first-time shoppers to realize just how special ZABS Place is. Colorful signs around the store inform customers that “ZABS Place is a thrift boutique employing young adults with special talents.” (The word “talents” appears over the crossed-off word “needs.”) The store’s website advertises it as “Affordable. Upscale. Inclusive.” That it’s all about “providing opportunities, realizing potential and having fun.”

Aaron Roochvarg (Photo: Howard Blas)

‘10 Years From Now .. ’

In one part of the store, three teenagers sip frozen drinks and banter about whether or not an outfit “looks cute.” In another, mothers with kids in tow throw a few outfits over their arms, heading for the dressing room. All the while, half-a-dozen young adults with special needs are doing their jobs in every area of running a business. Roochvarg, 27, continues to greet and assist customers. Erin Keeter, 28, is organizing children’s games. And Jonathan Gale, a 22-year-old employee who has been with the store from the start and now works 10 hours a week, is shelving books.

He picks up a holiday cookbook and perceptively asks his supervisor, “Should this book be here? It is not near holiday time!” She suggests he move it to another section.

In the back corner of ZABS Place, Cammie Wilson, 25, is straightening books and games on a high shelf as employment coordinator Alison Dugo, 30, looks on. “If you can’t reach this, what you should do?” asks Dugo. Wilson carefully considers the question and suggests bringing a ladder next time.

Dugo has been working at ZABS place for two years. In addition to teaching job skills, she spends a great deal of time on soft skills—the not-so-obvious, real-life know-how needed to be successful and professional at work. These include dressing appropriately, having a positive attitude, knowing how to act in the break room, and learning how to get along with fellow workers and bosses. Dugo thinks quite a bit about the employees’ futures. “I ask them: What do you imagine doing 10 years from now? What are you good at? What do you want to be good at; what is challenging for you?”

In many ways, ZABS Place is intentionally designed to be a training ground and stepping stone to future employment elsewhere in the community.

While Dugo is working with Wilson, Rochel Groner—co-director of ZABS Place and Friendship Circle of Charlotte, with her husband, Rabbi Bentzion Groner—is up front with Keeter, patiently going over how to use the store’s scheduling program on the iPad to request time off. The young woman and her family are planning a trip to Canada in a few weeks, and she is learning the various drag-down menu options, which include vacation days, sick leave and time needed for a personal or family emergency.

Keeter works in the store Mondays and Thursdays sorting children’s clothing and organizing the toy section. She is also one of the artists and craftspeople with special needs who have signed a consignment agreement with ZABS Place to sell their creative works. She photographs flowers near her home and makes them into greeting cards. “I sold three last week!” she reports.

(Photo: Len Weinstein)

Hannah Strunck, 18, is also a consignor, making bath crystals, balms and creams at home to be displayed and sold at ZABS Place alongside jewelry, journals and non-noise-producing fidget toys. Hannah’s older brother, Andy, 27, works at the store two days a week for 90 minutes each day, cleaning floors, hanging clothes, and dusting shelves. He comes with his longtime-care staff member, Aaron, who serves as a job coach.

“Andy feels proud, he feels welcomed, and he can sustain work without complaining,” according to his parents, Michael Strunck and Ruth Singer-Strunck. “For him, this is a huge accomplishment.”

‘A Really Important Place’

For the Strunck family, ZABS Place is more than a vocational training program for their children; it is a source of Jewish pride and identity. While the main indicators that the store has a Jewish affiliation are the mezuzahs on all doors and a sign indicating that it is closed on Shabbat (it’s open on Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.), ZABS Place has become a second “Jewish home” for the Struncks.

“It is a really important place. Much here in North Carolina is Christian-based,” observes Ruth Singer-Strunck, who grew up in New Jersey and moved to Charlotte from South Florida several years ago. “You often hear about a church doing this or a pastor doing that [for a good cause]. It made me feel especially good to have my kids involved in something Jewish. This is a connection to my community. I feel more plugged in and want my kids to have a connection to the Jewish faith.”

They’ve joined the Groners for Passover seder, and their children have participated in Friendship Circle.

A young customer checks out baseball caps. (Photo: Len Weinstein)

Cheryl Slane and her family, former members of the Charlotte Jewish community now living in New Orleans, agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by the Struncks.

“Chabad believes that every neshamah [soul] has a place,” she says. Long involved with Friendship Circle, she looks to ZABS Place as a model for training young adults with special needs, like their son, Ben, who’s almost 20. “Giving people with a disability a place to work is pretty amazing. That’s what we are trying to do here in New Orleans. There are so few job sites in the country for people with special needs.”

Numerous Charlotte families have gotten to know the Groners through their children’s participation in Friendship Circle, which in many ways was the birthplace for ZABS Place.

“When Jonathan was a junior in high school, we asked him what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to continue in high school; he wanted to work,” recall his parents, Caren and Charlie Gale. “We wanted a place that would understand him in his fullness—with all of his abilities and disabilities. We sat around the kitchen table and said, ‘What can we do to help Jonathan and all the families we have met in waiting rooms all these years?”

The former clarinetist and screenwriter couple, longtime transplants from Los Angeles, had an idea—open a business. The Gales approached the Groners, “concerned about people like Jonathan, who were getting older, and what to do when they age out of Friendship Circle.”

‘A High Bar for Our Children’

Rochel Groner adds some important details in the evolution and growth of ZABS Place.

“In 2012, some Friendship Circle families approached us and asked if we would start a Jewish group home,” she explains. The Groners were more focused on vocational training and the overall lives of young adults with special needs as they got older. “We wondered: ‘What are they doing meaningfully during the day?’ When I would ask parents what their child was good at, many didn’t know. We had to do something.”

Rochel went home and started brainstorming. She was generating ideas for businesses with low overhead and thought of a thrift store. She searched online for “thrift stores and disabilities,” and came across Our Thrift Store in Franklin, Tenn., which provides 25 ongoing jobs for young adults with special needs. “A few months later, when Friendship Circle was on break for the summer, we made the nine-hour drive to see the program.”

Dave Krikac, the store’s founder, was very helpful in providing guidance about the ins and outs of starting and running a thrift shop. When the Groners returned to Charlotte from Tennessee, they met with the Gales and discovered that they, too, had been thinking about starting a business for people with special needs.

Rochel’s formal training is in Jewish education; she was a classroom teacher for 10 years. She also notes with a small smile, “I did help run a basement business with family members many years ago in Baltimore, selling Israeli skirts.” At the time, Groner learned many things, including web design, though she acknowledges that the business was “minimally successful.”

When she and Bentzion married in 2005, they moved to Charlotte. In 2007, she began working with Bentzion at Friendship Circle International, an organization that creates chapters in local communities to foster relationships and friendships between typically developing teens and children with special needs. Through her work with Friendship Circle, Rochel acquired a great deal of experience in working with people who had all kinds of abilities.

“We know from Friendship Circle that everyone is unique, and has hidden qualities and something to share,” states Bentzion. In imagining a workplace for people with special needs, the Groners strongly believed that employees with special needs would develop social skills through their jobs.

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Truth be told, “there were a lot of ups and downs” on the road to starting a thrift store, attests Rochel. “We looked at 25 places in a year and a half,” adds Bentzion. “Even when it got tough, people like the Gales stood behind us,” helping with fundraising and much of the behind-the-scenes work

Throughout the sometimes challenging startup process, the Groners stood fast to their sense of mission and their dedication to the people they serve. “It was a community effort—totally a partnership,” says the rabbi. Many helped gather, transport and store merchandise, as well as remove room dividers, strip and repaint walls, and more.

They credit Rochel with an eye for business and an easy demeanor. “Rochel is sweet, dedicated, hardworking and intelligent. When we met, I thought she was too young to work,” jokes Ruth Singer-Strunck, commenting on the 30-something’s young appearance.

Work she does, 24/6, her only day off being on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, when the store is closed.

“Rochel had a vision—a place that was bright and airy, where people will want to shop,” adds Caren Gale. “It has attracted a cross-section of people, from young thrifters to people struggling financially, and they buy because they feel like mensches here.”

Singer-Strunck also has kind words for the Groners: “They are lovely, good people doing good work. Rochel delivered on a concept. She knew what she wanted it to look like.”

Caren Gale agrees. “I admire her attention to detail, and her desire to run a store that is both professional and beautiful.”

But perhaps most importantly, she says, “Rochel sets a high bar for our children—everything parents of a child with special needs could hope for.” Her husband, Charlie, adds that “she has such an affinity to this population and believes strongly in what they can do.”

‘A Wonderfully Nurturing Place’

Another fan of the Chabad emissaries is Lisa Shporer, a community member with more than 10 years of retail experience. Shporer volunteers 20 to 30 hours a week, and sees herself as the “snow-globe shaker” since she is known for “shaking things up” at ZABS Place.

Her connection to the Groners and ZABS Place is uniquely personal. Her son, Zachary, died of leukemia in 2012, at the age of 19. He was a student at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, N.C., and an active volunteer with such organizations as the Special Olympics, student council and Friendship Circle.

Community member and volunteer Lisa Shporer, whose 19-year-old son Zachary died of leukemia in 2011. The store is named in his memory. (Photo: Howard Blas)

The Groners, who had a special relationship with Zachary, approached the family at shivaabout “doing something in his merit.” They decided to name the soon-to-be opened ZABS Place in his memory, using the initials of his Hebrew name: Zechariah Avraham Baruch. A sign and picture near the checkout station explains the origin of the store’s name.

Elias Roochvarg, the longtime cantor at Temple Israel of Charlotte and the father of Aaron is pleased with ZABS Place and his son’s work there. “It is a wonderfully nurturing place for adults with special talents,” he says, adding that his son looks forward to two afternoons a week there. “As parents of an employee and as members of the community, we sheppedparental and communal nachas knowing how much our son is thriving as a result of the staff, and how great a service to the community Chabad is performing in this endeavor.”

Caren Gale is proud that Jonathan feels “confident and really productive,” creating the book section at ZABS Place. “Our hope is to be a model for other communities and to expand; it is always a process where we refine and add. We all need to find our own path. Why shouldn’t these kids?”

Employment coordinator Alison Dugo (Photo: Howard Blas)

Merchandise With a Mission

Customers say they appreciate the variety and quality of merchandise at ZABS Place as well as the mission behind it. They learn an important lesson about people, in particular, the abilities of people with special needs.

“It’s nice to see their impressions evolve,” says Rochel. “For many, it is their first opportunity to come this close to people with special needs. ZABS Place helps them build educated opinions—that all people are important and can do things. We even see their patience when one of our employees is at the cash register.”

Caren Gale acknowledges that she hadn’t “anticipated at the start the role ZABS Place would have in educating the community. A byproduct of the program is that people came in, and their minds were changed. People were moved.”

Rochel says she never imagined directing a thrift shop. “But of all the jobs I’ve had, I am most excited to come here. I just love the people!”

She adds: “People ask me if I still teach. And I do. I teach here, every day.”

Photographs of Rochel Groner helping a child with autism on a transatlantic flight went viral on Facebook.

In fact, the general population got an opportunity to witness Rochel’s abilities firsthand. Several weeks ago, Rochel and Bentzion were on a flight back to the United States, via Belgium, after chaperoning a Birthright Israel trip. About an hour into the flight, a young boy with autism began screaming and crying. Passengers began getting upset, and the mother seemed unsure of what to do. Rochel approached the boy with her hand out, which he grasped; the two then spent a few hours playing near a bulkhead on the plane. A photo posted by Bentzion on Facebook went viral, generating more than 6,500 Likes.

That didn’t surprise members of the Charlotte community and those affiliated with ZABS Place. Singer-Strunck made it a point to say “that is who she is. She saw that a kid was in trouble; it didn’t matter who. This is their world. They are immersed in the work they do.”

Alison Dugo knows that all the attention on Rochel must have been tough. “She is humble and shy. For her, it is a calling—what she thinks she should be doing.”

“I didn’t like it,” admits Groner. “But I will survive the attention,” she says, as long as it’s been an opportunity for others to learn. “I hope what comes out of this is the ability for people to realize that they can reach out and offer support to one another, instead of staring or being apathetic. We’re all different, and the onus is on the community to make it work for everyone.”

It’s what her mother always taught, says the Chabad emissary: “Leave the world a better place than how you found it.”

Helping a customer with her selections. (Photo: Len Weinstein)
Len Weinstein browses through the wide variety of items at ZABS Place.

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by Aaron Herman

How do you you create a meaningful Israel experience for young adults with special needs? Video blogger Aaron Herman spoke with Covenant Award winner Howard Blass, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, Tali Cohen, Director of Tikvah Vocational Services and participants about their unique Israel experience.

The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England is an eight-week overnight camping program for 60 campers with special needs that is integrated within a summer camp for 800 typically developing children. As Director, Howard manages four separate special needs programs, including a full-time overnight camp, a Vocational Training Program, a Camp Employment Program, and an Inclusion Program.

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