Community in His Eyes

Tags: Holocaust, Inclusion

By Keren Shalevet

In honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day, we are honored to share a most unique story. In an act of living defiance, the members of Krembo Wings, a youth movement for individuals with special needs in Israel, are able to take part in the meaningful journey to Poland to visit the historical sites of European Jewry.

Each year, Jewish youth from all over the world spend a unique week in Poland where they come face to face with the history and identity of their nation. About a year ago, the Krembo Wings Youth Movement decided to take its members – teenagers with special needs – to participate in this life-changing experience to bring them closer to Jewish Heritage, just like any other Israeli teenager.

Doron Chen, a 19 year-old with special needs from Ramat Hasharon, joined Krembo Wings on the delegation to Poland with his mother, Orna. Through his experiences, we are given a glimpse as to the impact of the journey and the value of our collective support of this effort.

Doron: "When I heard that Krembo Wings was organizing a trip to Poland I got very excited. I kept hearing about the Holocaust and it was important for me to go there and learn what really happened. Now, thanks to Krembo Wings, I was able to participate in this amazing experience."

Doron has cerebral palsy. As a result, his upper and lower limbs are disabled and he uses a walker. Until the age of 18 he studied in a mainstream school, but then he moved to a day center for youngsters with special needs in Zahala, Tel Aviv. Doron's personal experience emphasizes the sense of community that Krembo provides. "I love participating in the movement's activities. I've been doing it for four years now. We talk about a lot of things, create things together, and meet new friends." It was this feeling of community that made the Poland experience possible for this group of teenagers.

Doron was very excited about the trip and eagerly awaited it. "Visiting the concentration camps made me sad, and it was difficult, but I coped. I very much wanted to find out what happened to the Jews. I met many new friends and we all helped each other out, both participants and counselors. We spent eight days together and the trip was very touching."

The movement is responsive to the participants' needs and addresses them beyond the experience of the voyage itself. "The journey was unsettling to say the least: we saw the shoes, the hairs and the clothes. We all cried there and became very emotional. At first it was very difficult for the kids but we joined forces and supported each other. We also experienced logistical difficulties since it wasn't always easy to move about with everyone. One boy named Dor was particularly emotional because his grandfather was a Holocaust victim. We completed the journey, however, just like everyone else."

Orna understood the uniqueness of this opportunity to be a part of the experience with her son and other members of Krembo Wings. "We could not have managed it there [in Poland], emotionally and in terms of accessibility. Some kids are confined to wheelchairs and it wasn't easy. The kids were also very excited. It was the counselors who kept us together, supporting the kids, and we the parents were also there for them. While he could have traveled to Poland with his previous school, we appreciate that Krembo Wings gives priority to the child's needs and Doron, much like many others in the movement, has physical disabilities."

It's important for us to send our children to Poland – they have a right to this experience just like any other Israeli and any Jew in the world. Our children may have special needs, but their thoughts and emotions are just like any other kid's. They must therefore be treated as part of society. The fact that they don't have legs to walk on or arms to hug with doesn't mean they don't need to experience life just like any other boy or girl. We don't know what we would have done without this movement, which makes our kids feel valuable, just like any other teenagers.

Doron now continues to advocate for others like him to be able to take part in this experience. "All of this was thanks to donations from the Jewish community in Israel and around the world. Without Krembo Wings this couldn't happen, so it's important for anyone who's able to support this NGO to do so, and help other members get there and learn about their heritage." Right now, Krembo Wings is trying to collect donations to help other members make the trip. Costs are high because a parent must accompany every youth.

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Tags: Holocaust, Inclusion