Tsav Giyus Rishon (First IDF Recruitment Order)

Earlier this morning, I walked Adina over to our first day of Shutaf Summer Camp at the Kiryat Moriah campus – a short 10 minute walk from our house. I reminded myself that all the hard work I put in to make Shutaf a reality for Adina and other kids with special needs – it’s all worth it when I see Adina’s smile when she joins the beautiful big circle of 60 children and teens, 20 staffers and Deb in the middle, starting off the day.

Shutaf is an integral, positive part of Adina’s life. At Shutaf she gets the attention and support she needs when she is overwhelmed with the social demands of being in a group. Most importantly she is accepted and loved for who she is, just the way she is.

When I returned home, I opened the mailbox to find an envelope in Adina’s name. I knew it was her tsav giyus rishon (first army recruitment order). I was expecting it to arrive soon, as her 17th birthday approaches, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would completely throw me. I feel completely bereft.

Having trained myself to only focus on what she CAN do, this envelope suddenly reminded me of everything she can’t and won’t do or be. It took me right back to square one – 16 years ago – when we got her diagnosis of mosaic Down syndrome.

That envelope brought all my concerns and fears for Adina’s future to the surface. I know how capable she is and how loving and kind she is, but I also know that the world turns very quickly and doesn’t stop for people who need another minute to catch up. How will she fit in?

For my part, I will continue to believe in her.  We may yet see her in IDF uniform as a volunteer.  Maybe she’ll do some other form of national service. Whatever she does, she has my endless love and highest respect.

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Seeing the Stems and the Flowers at Shutaf

Everyone is a winner at ShutafJason Graf, a TRY – Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim, Ramah’s High School in Israel program, has been a big brother to Ami (not the boy in the picture on the left) for the past couple of months. Here’s his story of friendship and seeing the world differently.

Jason Graf: Over the past two months I have been able work closely with Shutaf, a special needs youth organization that has both kids with special needs and without special needs.

I have also been a “big brother” to a kid who is involved with Shutaf. Together we have had some great times. What is truly amazing about him is he sees the small details in life that makes life pleasurable. He will show me a wild flower that does not look so nice, and tell me to take a deeper look, and then I see the beautiful purple stems in the flower that were not easily seen. Because of things like this, he teaches me so much but most importantly to see happiness and beauty in everything.

Along with getting a “little brother” I was able to participate in the Shutaf-TRY Sportathon. In simpler terms – color war. My team was made up of some TRY kids and some Shutaf kids with special needs. I stuck close to a kid named Daniel – a Shutaf kid with special needs. What I found amazing about him is that whenever anybody would ask him how he is doing, he would say, הכל טוב, or ‘everything is good.’ It really just taught me an important lesson – if this kid who has disabilities and is really in a society that does not look so nicely upon disabled people but is able to feel that everything is good, then I too should feel that everything is good, one hundred percent of the time.

The reason why I love Shutaf, is because more than I can give them, they give me. They teach the most important lesson in life – to stay positive and be happy.

From the Shutaf Kitchen

From guest blogger and newest Shutaf volunteer, Ada Broussard

My first introduction to Shutaf came when Beth Steinberg sat on a panel and for a mere 15 minutes talked about the organization’s inclusive programming for kids with special needs.  With warm gestures and wide eyes, Beth really captivated my class of mainly females, who after the panel, all waited like hungry dogs to get her card and hear a little more from this passionate woman from Brooklyn.

Now, it’s noteworthy that I often misplace things.  With good intention, the most mundane items like my cell phone, get left on the balcony, or hidden in the spice cabinet. Beth’s card, however, I put in my safest zipper compartment, and immediately put it on the fridge when I came home until I could sit down and email Beth. I wanted more Shutaf in my life, wanted to feel for myself the fun, open, and creative atmosphere that comes through from the video that Beth showed us.  And, if I could meet the wanna-be John Travolta featured on the video, well… my new life in Jerusalem would be that much more fulfilled.

And suddenly, after a probably over-eager e-mail, I found myself on an unknown bus, headed to an undiscovered part of town, to see the real-live Shutaf…  all whilst baking cookies with a Canadian-Israeli chef, and five older teens with special needs.  A bit nervous?  Definitely.  Equally excited?  Of course.

Here are a couple of things I  gleaned from my first day with Shutaf:

1.  Eating cookie dough is perhaps very Americana (I’d like to be proved wrong), and needs to be carefully marketed to the new bakers.  Seeing as this was the first week of a long series of baking classes, I have full confidence that by the end, bowls and spoons will be licked clean.

2.  There is no crying, only laughing, over spilled milk and broken eggs.  Baking with a room full of teens with special needs is no less messy than my baking by my lonesome, and the results are no less delicious (this week we made oatmeal-raisin cookies, sans raisins for some haters).

3.  For some, warm cookies are inherently more interesting than the baking process itself;  I hope the next class we can learn a bit more on the magic that happens when you mix baking soda with four and sugar, and that the end product is only the result of sweet stirring and purposeful measuring.

4.  And last, and probably the take-home theme of the day: Shutaf truly practices inclusion via quality programming. At this first baking class, I was the new girl in a room full of friends… not to mention, the new girl with the .. uhhum.. questionable Hebrew.  And yet, by the end, I forgot all about my apprehensions and found myself welcoming a slew of grammar corrections from five funny, opinionated, thoughtful, competent, and soon-to-be master baker teens.

I’m so glad I’ve found this little niche with Shutaf.  Even though, quite honestly, I don’t know what my niche will fully entail.  I do know, though, that if it includes me hanging with wonderful kids, learning more about quality special needs programming, and having weekly access to fresh-baked goods.. well… that’s fine by me and my belly.