The following account was written by Laureen Sussman, who made Aliyah with an adult son with special needs, in 2007. Her story illustrates that is indeed possible to find the right placement and facilitate a successful transition for an adult with disabilities, to life in Israel.
Finding an appropriate placement for an adult with disabilities can be very challenging. However, Israel offers a wide range of living arrangements and programs for individuals with disabilities, and with the right guidance it is possible to track down the options that are most appropriate for each person’s needs.
ALIYAH NOW? YES!!!
By: Laureen G. Sussman
12 May, 2009
My husband, Alan, and I always wanted to make aliyah. We even spoke about it when we first started to date. In fact, for me the idea came even earlier than that. I was actually making plans to make aliyah when I met my husband back in 1975.
After we married in 1977, we talked about it again, but my mother asked us to hold off. “Please don’t take my baby away from me,” she said. We bought a house on Long Island, in New York, and we started to raise a family. The idea of moving to Israel was always on our mind.
Our oldest child, David, was born in 1980, and we were ecstatic. He was a true joy, and we imagined raising him in Israel. However, when our second child, Adam, was born three months prematurely in 1981, all thoughts turned to keeping him alive, and we stopped entertaining the idea of moving to Israel. He spent 9 months in the neonatal ICU and came home on life support, only to be rushed back to the hospital in severe respiratory distress with bilateral pneumonia. For the next six months, he was in and out of the hospital. During one of those early hospitalizations, he caught something while he was in the pediatric ICU, and he had fevers of 108 fahrenheit four times. His eyes changed, and I knew then that Adam had brain damage. He had to relearn all of his milestones, even though he had actually been early in first learning them while he was still in the neonatal unit.
When Adam finally came home again, we had registered nurses caring for him during the day. We also had a physical therapist, a speech therapist, and a special education teacher who came to our home almost every single day in order to provide early intervention services. Adam remained on oxygen until the age of three. It was then that the nurses also left, and he was able to start attending school in a special education setting.
When Adam was four, our youngest child, Daniel, was born, and a few months later we moved to a larger home in a more Jewish area. David and Daniel thrived in their yeshivas, and Adam seemed to be making progress in his special-education setting. We investigated the possibility of making aliyah, but there didn’t seem to be enough educational and other services for Adam, so we decided to wait.
The years flew by. When David was 12 years old, Adam was 11, and Daniel was 6, we visited Israel for a few weeks at the end of June. We spent time with relatives and traveled around the country. Both my husband and I wanted our children to see up close the land that we love. We felt that even if we would not be able to move here with our family, perhaps David and Daniel would eventually make the move. Since we always talked about Israel at home, it seemed only natural to come for a visit. The following year would be David’s Bar Mitzvah, and we wanted him to have a party at home in New York for family and friends in order to be able to celebrate with them.
Shortly after we returned home to New York, I happened to read an article in the Jerusalem Post about Prof. Reuven Feuerstein, the founder and director of the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential, in Jerusalem. His theory and program seemed to be the answer to my dreams. I wrote to The Jewish Agency for Israel to ask if I could be put in touch with Prof. Feuerstein. Several weeks later, I received a letter from the Professor, himself, along with a package of information about his program. He asked for detailed information about Adam, and that began a long-standing relationship for us.
Alan, Adam, and I first met Prof. Feuerstein and his wife in January, 1983 in Manhattan. All that year, we corresponded until, after David’s Bar Mitzvah in August, we were able to arrange to have Adam attend Reuven’s program for a full three weeks in order for his staff to complete a full evaluation. I came to Israel in November, 1983 with Adam while Alan stayed home with David and Daniel. During those three weeks, Adam began speaking in full sentences for the first time. I was amazed at the progress Adam had made.
We came home in the middle of November, 1983, armed with a plan for Adam to have a full Bar Mitzvah and to hopefully continue with the learning that had been started in Jerusalem. David taught Adam his Bar Mitzvah parsha. He taught him to read in Hebrew. Only ten months after we returned to New York, Adam had his Bar Mitzvah during Chol Hamoed Sukkot. He layned from the Torah, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Again, dreams of aliyah started to materialize.
However, we still were not able to find everything we needed. David would be going into high school, and our shaliach at the time told us that it would be a huge adjustment for David, one that could cause all kinds of problems for him. We decided to wait.
A few years went by, and David went off to study at Ohr Yerushalayim, a post-high school yeshiva here in Israel. Adam was finally able to be transferred to a special-education setting in a yeshiva in Far Rockaway, New York. Daniel graduated junior high school and was enrolled in the same high school that David had attended. Again, we would have to wait.
After two years in Israel, David returned to New York to complete his college education. After that, he intended on making aliyah. Daniel completed high school after four years, and then he, too, went to Ohr Yerushalayim to study. It was supposed to be for two years, but then he decided to transfer to another yeshiva and stay in Israel another year. At the end of that year, Daniel came for a visit and informed us that he would be returning to Israel permanently. It is now five years that Daniel is here, and he has no intention of leaving Israel.
In the meantime, Adam moved into a Bais Ezra group home in Brooklyn, New York. David got married in 2005, and in 2006 he and his wife moved to Israel. My husband and I have remained in contact with Prof. Feuerstein, and we visited him in Israel several times. We went to see his group home, but we didn’t feel it would be appropriate for Adam because of the physical environment. Adam has some health needs, and the group home run by Prof. Feuerstein’s agency is very large and airy. There is no climate control, and at the time Adam used to get sick a great deal. We were afraid that Adam’s physical health would be jeopardized. A social worker at the agency also felt that there would be no one to dispense Adam’s medications.
When David and his wife moved to Israel and Daniel informed us that he, too, would make Israel his home, Alan and I realized that it would be now or never. Either we would find the right placement for Adam and move to Israel with him, or we would sell our house and have two apartments, one in Israel and one in New York. We would then be able to maintain Adam’s placement in Bais Ezra and travel back and forth between Israel and New York several times a year.
Through Nefesh B’Nefesh, I contacted Chana Zweiter, who runs the Rosh Pina Mainstreaming Network and finds placements for children with disabilities in Israel. Although she usually works with school-age children, she agreed to have one of her staff members search for appropriate group homes for Adam.
In November of 2006, I was advised that there is a wonderful group home for young men with some combination of autism-spectrum disorders and mental retardation in Beit Shemesh. The amutah, known as Eden Ohaley Yaakov, was started only a few years before by two clinical psychologists, a husband and wife, who had made aliyah from France. Our first grandchild was born at the end of November, and we arranged to visit Israel with Adam. We went to the group home, called a hostel here in Israel, one day during our trip, and we fell in love. This home is min ha shamayim. Adam was accepted, and we immediately made plans to make aliyah the following summer of 2007.
About a month after our trip, I received an e-mail from the menahelet of the hostel that in order for them to save a place for Adam until the following August, we would have to make aliyah almost immediately. Otherwise, Bituach Leumi (the National Health Ministry) and Misrad HaRevacha (the Ministry of Social Welfare) would not be able to allow them to hold the place. Therefore, in late January, 2007, Alan, Adam, and I traveled to Israel for one week. We made aliyah, opened our bank account, joined a kupat cholim, and began making plans to move here permanently. We returned to New York in order to sell our house, arrange for the shipment of our belongings, and advise the authorities at Bais Ezra of our plans to move in August. I finished my teaching contract for the year, and Alan made plans for maintaining his office and being able to commute from Israel to New York.
With the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh, we made arrangements for our aliyah. All paperwork was completed, and we were allowed to fly with Nefesh B’Nefesh on their August 20 flight so that we could have the experience of coming with a large group to make aliyah. As the days flew by and our flight came closer, there was a flurry of excitement and activity for us. We had so many meetings to schedule and last-minute things to do.
Finally, we arrived on August 21, 2007. We rented an apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and Adam stayed with us for several weeks in order to make a good adjustment. In the beginning, he went to the hostel during the day for his program, but returned in the evening. Once he moved into the home, everything fell into place.
Adam has a job in the mornings. Afternoons are spent participating in various therapies, trips, sports, shopping, horseback riding and the like. Adam is happy, healthy, and safe. He takes much less medication than ever before. He loves being in Eden and can’t wait to go back whenever he visits us. Adam comes home every other Shabbat and for the chaggim. He tells us that he loves Israel and never wants to return to America. He tells us that he likes living in Eden. It is a true home.
We have finally been able to live our dream. Our family is here in Israel, where we belong. All of our children are happy and doing well. Alan and I are able to see our granddaughter regularly, and we look forward to watching all of our grandchildren grow up. When Hashem was ready for us to come here, everything fell into place quickly and easily. We bought our own home, I have a job, and Alan and I love every minute of being here. Israel is truly our home, and we are living our dream.