At ALEH It is Chanukah Everyday

Shira walking; photo by Aviella Koschland.
Shira walking; photo by Aviella Koschland.

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

For the eight days of Chanukah Jews around the world celebrate God’s miracles. But at ALEH (Advancement and Rehabilitation of Children with Complex Disabilities), a network of rehabilitation centers and villages for disabled children and adults in Israel, “every day is a miracle,” said Ayala Amar, head nurse at ALEH Negev–Nahalat Eran in southern Israel.

“The residents in the village are the weakest and most impaired in Israel,” explained Amar. “From our point of view, when a resident begins hydrotherapy and immerses him or herself in the water or when he or she plays in the petting zoo, this is a miracle.”

And sometimes the miracles are even more profound.

Liraz Asulin gave birth to twins Shira and Illai four years ago. Her euphoria was shattered by the news that her daughter was sick. Born with cytomegalovirus (CMV), Shira was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit for nine months.

“They told me she was in a terrible place and she would not make it,” recalled Asulin in a phone interview.

On Shira’s first night home, she stopped breathing. Her mother quickly realized she was ill-equipped to help her daughter, who could not eat on her own and was unable to crawl or sit up like other 9-month-old babies.

“Even though it was so hard for me, we decided to put Shira in full-time medical care,” Asulin said.

The family chose ALEH.

When Shira came to ALEH, her condition was critical.

“The goal was merely to stabilize her,” said Amar.

But ALEH managed to do more than that. With physical therapy and a lot of faith, Shira, now 4, recently started to walk, explained Amar. Shira is likewise integrated into a nursery school.

“The fact that she is communicative when there was no eye connection, to see the gap from when she came here until now and how she has developed – this is nothing short of a miracle,” said Amar.

“Even though she is not with us every day, the fact that I see her and she is so happy – this makes it much easier,” said Asulin.

Amar said she strives to treat each resident of ALEH like her own child. She arrives early in the day and greets them warmly.

“My mission is two-fold: to give them the best medical treatment possible and to give them as much warmth and love as the child needs,” Amar said.

From her standpoint, the moment she sees one of the children smile, she knows that anything is possible.

“I know I give them what no one else can,” she said. “Of course it is hard … but that smile they give me in return is motivation to continue.”

Shlomit Grayevsky, head of ALEH Jerusalem, sees other types of miracles, too. She has been working with ALEH for 17 years and said the greatest miracle is how much Israeli society has come not only to accept but embrace her constituents.

“Years ago, our children would not have been part of their community,” said Grayevsky, recalling how ALEH used to “beg for volunteers.”

Today, she has more than 300 volunteers and can hand select them from even more applicants. She has managed to integrate some of her patients into Israeli youth groups.

“Years ago, our children would have been taken care of separately,” Grayevsky said. “Today, the attitude of the youth has completely changed. They look at the ALEH participants as their friends, not people who have to be taken care of.”

Further, she said technology has been a miracle for her clients. ALEH now uses iPads and computers to help children communicate using symbols.

“We don’t choose to have such children,” said Grayevsky. “But once families have such children, they should never give up hope for a good quality of life.”

She continued, “These children may never be healthy, never go to university or have a profession, but they can have a good quality of life. … Never give up hope, this is the most important thing.”

“The staff at ALEH is doing such holy work,” said Asulin. “They are our miracle.”