Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Visiting an Israeli facility for the disabled changed my family forever

Robin Dermer and her husband, record producer and cantorial soloist Lawrence Dermer (pictured right), performed 
for Aleh Negev residents in 2007, along with the Dermer children. 

By Robin Dermer 

Our daughter was born with an underlying neuromuscular disorder. By the time she was 7, her club feet were corrected, her muscle tone was improving substantially, and I took my family to Israel for healing, closure, a thank-you-to-god for helping us through her very difficult beginning. It was important for me to set an example for my older sons of how blessed we were to have the resources, care, and services for our daughter in her early years. 

One of the visits on the trip was to Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative facility for the severely disabled, to show our kids what it was like for children with special needs in Israel. I chose Aleh because it was founded on an underlying belief that mirrored my own -- a focus on potential rather than disability. The mere existence of Aleh exemplified that against all odds everything is possible. If you can envision something you can create it.

At the time, Aleh was new, a naked building anchoring a dream in the middle of a dry desert, but I intuitively knew from the description on the Internet that we needed to visit. Our visit was an opportunity for us to do something, as my family played instruments and sang for the residents and caregivers. I remember being in the van with my three children heading toward the Negev and hearing rockets in the distance (2007 was the height of Gaza rockets) and wondering, why am I doing this? It never occurred to me until that moment to ask why. The inspiration came to me to go there and I just made a decision and went.

During their first visit to Aleh Negev, the author and her husband, 
Lawrence Dermer, play with young residents. 
The "why" I made the choice to go became louder as the sounds of the sirens neared. I recalled the words of my grandmother -- "'why' is a crooked letter." Questioning at that point was pointless. We were well on our way to Aleh and off to a school in the border town of Sderot. There was no turning back. 

As I looked at the faces of my three children, who were 17, 15, and 7 at the time, I realized something greater was orchestrating the plan. One day, my choice to visit would be a small part of their tapestry, the masterpiece they paint of their lives and the people that they would one day impact (today, one of my sons is in medical school and the other in rabbinical school). 

Looking back, I did not understand the magnitude of that decision and I certainly didn’t fathom that nine years later I would be working with Jewish National Fund and JNF would be an Aleh partner and its driving force. I couldn't conceive the wave of emotion and awe I would feel visiting Aleh in late 2015, when I had the privilege of going on a JNF lawyers' mission and experiencing the greatness of Aleh's growth. Today, Aleh is truly a village with landscaped pathways, buildings, gardens, and parks. It is a warm, welcoming therapeutic community, the epicenter of a desert oasis, a haven for healing for special-needs children and their families.


Visiting Aleh was a choice I made in 2007 in the face of challenges in Israel and within myself. The choice changed me and my family forever. 

Our choices are the examples we set for our children so they can make decisions in their lives that affect change. Choices are a reflection of how we perceive our challenges. Choices give us opportunities to make a difference every day. Choices are how we decide to act in the face of grief, pain, and adversity.
No parent chooses to have a child with special needs. When a child is born with physical or mental challenges, the parents too become challenged. They must accept the loss of the child they envisioned and make difficult decisions that parents of non-disabled children do not have to face. Those choices make all the difference in the life of the child, and they can impact the whole family and the community.

Aleh Negev founder Major General Doron Almog, himself the father of a special-needs child, chose to see a need for extended care for young adults and envisioned a village so others with special-needs children could benefit. For me, I simply wanted my family to heal, express gratitude, grow stronger, and be an example for others along the way.

Robin Dermer is an attorney in Florida.

Photo: Robert Kerzner
Today, Aleh Negev is a village with landscaped pathways, gardens, and a therapeutic petting zoo for residents. 

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