Wednesday, February 28, 2018

JDAIM: A beautiful tree of hope grows in Israel, at Aleh Negev

Nina, center in black stripes, and the recent Makor delegation with the tree dedicated in memory of her son Max.
During February, Jewish Disabilty Awareness Inclusion Month (JDAIM), and all year round, and Jewish National Fund proudly supports efforts to make sure people with special needs and disabilities are fully included in Israeli society.

By Nina Paul

Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran is a state-of-the-art residential rehabilitative village for the most severely disabled in Israel, located in the area of southern Israel known as the Negev. I had the opportunity to visit this amazing village several years ago with a JNF mission. I was overcome with emotion, not only because of who was being helped, but because the facility touched me personally.

It was almost 16 years ago when in the blink of an eye our family's life changed forever. Our son, then not quite 8 years old and gorgeous and smart with a personality extraordinaire, was diagnosed with a "one in a million" brain tumor. We had no time to research our options, a resection was needed immediately. Though the tumor was non-cancerous, the resection destroyed everything in its path, leaving us a different child.

After a year at home, trying to continue as normal a life as possible, Max had to be hospitalized due to his erratic behavior. It was impossible for him to live at home and so I researched every rehabilitation facility in the country. I found it so hard to believe there were so few that would except a 9-year-old with a dual diagnosis: medical and behavioral.
Nina and Eddie Paul

In the end, I found three different facilities where he spent months at a time and even a long period at our Cincinnati Children's hospital. There were no magic bullets to be found at any of these places, and bringing him back to Cincinnati, near us, was our best option. 

Unfortunately we lost him 14 years after this nightmare began, almost 2 years ago.

When I saw what a beautiful and loving environment Aleh Negev offered, I cried, thinking to myself, "What if this existed in the US, where would Max may have been today"? It was at this point I pledged that when we were financially able to, we would donate much of our resources here and definitely my time and energy. I now sit on the board of governors of Aleh Negev and raise awareness and money to help develop the village.

To our surprise, Major General Doron Almog and his wife Didi, founders of the village in memory of their beloved son Eran, along with Avi Vortzman, CEO, planted a tree in memory of Max right in front of the memorial garden they planted in memory of their son Eran. To say this was one of the most beautiful and heartwarming gestures is an understatement. It was dedicated on a JNF National Board of Directors mission that both my husband Eddie and I participated in.

This February, I visited Aleh Negev with our JNF Makor group and we saw what a beautiful tree is growing from the love and attention that is given to every resident there. Recently, my husband Eddie and I established the "Max Paul Volunteer Program" where people from all over the world, but primarily from the states, will have an opportunity to volunteer from three weeks to a year, and make a difference in the lives of all they will touch, and in return will have an experience of a lifetime.



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