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Eliyokim Cohen: A special needs paradise

Eliyokim Cohen: A special needs paradise

Shalom everyone,

To say I have a crush on my neighbor’s 11 year old daughter with downs syndrome is about as big an understatement as one can make. This girl is like a never ending Chanukkah candle that brings warm and simcha to everyone who’s life she touches.

Yesterday I had the privilege of accompanying her and her parents to a Chanukkah party for special needs kids in a Yeshuv ( “settlement” ) near our own in the rolling hills of Samaria. There are some memories you hope will always stay as vivid as they were when you were experiencing it, and this party was one of those memories.

There is an organization in Ofra called Leiv Binyamin, it’s a program for kids with special needs, and if there is a more amazing place on earth for kids with these types of disabilities and challenges, then I would like to see it because this organization absolutely blew me away. Each child has their own special partner, who is with them at all times, playing games, offering encouragement, laughing, and being a true friend that every child needs to have. All of the staff is volunteers, which makes their dedication and love for each child all the more intense. They CHOOSE to be there, it’s not something they punch a time card for. The love and warmth experienced at Leiv Binyamin is something that will touch one so deeply that it will make you as proud to be Jewish as you will ever be in your life.

What struck me the most about this organization was actually the volunteers, girls and boys from the area that were as happy to be there as the children who’s faces were as lit up as a Menorah the entire time. In an age where so many teenagers spend so much effort trying to be cool or tough or popular, these volunteers were just happy to be themselves. I would expect that from the female volunteers, as girls tend to be less self-conscious about being cool than their male counterparts, but I was astonished to see these teenage boys engaged with their special needs partners. They were dancing, singing, laughing, and always trying to bring out the best of their partners. All of the volunteers were as concerned about their partner’s and in tune to their needs as it seems their own parents might be. It was truly one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.

I didn’t know where to focus my attention, it was like being a kid in a spiritual candy store. There was so much joy and beauty around me that it was quite overwhelming. The support that these children had was amazing, but what’s even more touching is the sense of community all of the families enjoyed. I looked at the faces of the parents when their children were doing the dance they had rehearsed for us. There is smiling and then there is the smiling that I saw last night. The sense of emotion you could tell these parents got from their special children was absolutely priceless to witness.

Which brings me back to my 11 year old crush, who always makes me smile. Leivav doesn’t just go through life, she takes it on; she doesn’t just smile, she beams; she doesn’t laugh, she belts out joy; and she doesn’t just bring simcha to those around her, she fills their whole world up with it.

I remember one time I was sitting on the couch on the internet, and she came over and sat down next to me and put her arm around me. If there was a cuter moment in my life, then surely it was replaced by this one. I turned on a cartoon on youtube, and I watched as her face started to light up as bright as any I had ever seen. If I had just found out I won a billion dollars in the lottery, I can assure you my expression would not have even come close to hers, as she was watching the characters sing a song and dance.

Kids with special needs don’t need as much from us as we need from them. They are born with a soul that is as close to perfect as can be found in our world. The Jewish texts say they come down to earth to correct a blemish in their past life, and are put in bodies that are challenged to help them correct that one final tikkun before they reach their rightful place in Olam Haba. Now many people will read this and laugh or mock what I just said, which is fine, but that is just the reality of kids such as Leivav…they are the closest things to Angels as we can find on earth.

Read more: Eliyokim Cohen “Sidetick blog” HERE

Author: Eliyokim Cohen

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