By Tom Hart
Students from this university socialized Sunday afternoon with visitors from Baltimore Yachad while making cards for Israeli soldiers in the Hillel multipurpose room.
Yachad is an international organization that promotes the inclusion of special needs individuals into Jewish life, whether at the synagogue, at school or a social activity like this one. The event brought together about 10 students of approximate college age from Yachad with seven volunteers from this university for an arts and crafts session that lasted about an hour.
“The college campus is a great place” for the cardmaking, Yachad organizer Mira Labovitz said.
This is the second event of its kind Labovitz has organized with Hillel since February 2015. February is Yachad’s North American Inclusion Month (NAIM; the Hebrew word for “pleasant”), according to Yachad’s website. Other events have included decorating Hillel’s Sukkah for Sukkot and weekend retreats called Shabbatons at Yachad’s Baltimore branch.
Volunteers and organizers gave Yachad guests a boilerplate message with spaces to fill in their names to send to the soldiers, and the visitors decorated the cards with markers, construction paper and stickers.
The visitors from Yachad were on a spectrum of special needs. Some were nonverbal and required more assistance, while others were eager to converse with the student volunteers about their favorite music, TV shows and movies.
“It’s all about inclusion,” Moshe Klein said. “‘[Because] everyone belongs,’ that’s their motto.”
Klein, a sophomore government and politics and economics major, has volunteered at the Baltimore Yachad and is currently helping Yachad establish its Potomac branch.
“Moshe Klein is instrumental in facilitating the partnership” between Yachad Baltimore and Hillel, Labovitz said.
When asked about this statement, Klein said: “This isn’t necessarily a difficult event to organize, because we have all the materials here.”
The event also served as an opportunity for career experience. One volunteer, Danielle Galitzer, a freshman special education major, has worked at Friendship Circle International. Friendship Circle is a Chabad organization with similar goals that is geared towards younger special needs children.
“I’ve always wanted to get involved since coming to College Park, and this seemed like a good event,” she said.
Klein has also had special education experience at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children, but he said that isn’t a requirement.
“You don’t have to have any experience, you’re just being a peer,” Klein said.
As the event came to an end, volunteers showed the Yachad students out so they could begin their trip back to Baltimore.
Labovitz said the goals for the cardmaking were simply to “enjoy each other’s company and do something for the greater [Jewish] community.”