Twenty women from four of Ohel Bais Ezra’s New York group homes spent a weeklong vacation in Los Angeles. The highlight of their trip was not the typical visit to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor or Universal Studios. Rather, it was the first-in-a-lifetime meeting and socializing with peers from Etta at Ohel group homes in the Valley and a never-to-forget Shabbaton at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.
Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services recently merged with the Etta Israel Center to form Etta at Ohel—an agency founded in 1993 in Los Angeles, and a leader in the provision of residential services to Jewish adults with developmental disabilities in California.
On Wednesday evening, August 28, Ohel Bais Ezra individuals were warmly welcomed into the Etta at Ohel Ryzman Family Group Home in the Valley. Dr. Michael Held, executive director of Etta, commented, “the evening was one of non-stop dancing and singing but, most importantly, one of new connections, as residents from N.Y. and L.A. shared life stories and experiences with one another.” The evening lasted late into the night and everyone looked forward to the upcoming Shabbaton. Mrs. Stein, a parent of an Etta resident who was in attendance, said the evening “epitomized the new opportunities, the extended family and support we have found in the union with Ohel.”
Friday evening, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg of Congregation Shaarey Zedek and his community warmly welcomed over 100 individuals and staff from Ohel and Etta for the first-ever national Shabbaton of its kind. At the Friday night seudah, Tali Hill, challenged with cerebral palsy, spoke emotively of the importance in “ensuring that no one is ever alone.” Her eloquence and courage struck all and many a tear of joy was shed in the room.
After Shabbos morning davening, Etta friend Moshe Beinenfeld addressed the entire kehillah. Speaking with much humor and poise, he shared his experiences of growing up with autism and reflected on the importance of inclusiveness in a community “where differences are embraced and appreciated.”
Josh Taff, director of outreach and programming at Etta and a powerhouse of exuberance and energy throughout the Shabbos, commented that it was the “most amazing ruach filled Shabbos experience ever!”
Another highlight of the Shabbos was a celebration of the engagement of Danielle Magady of LA and Shlomo Myers of Chicago, a couple with Down syndrome. All Shabbaton participants danced in Danielle’s honor and wished her many mazal tovs.
Meira Feinerman, Etta’s assistant director of marketing, commented, “Over the course of just a few days, individual connections blossomed into newfound friendships—and we hope to continue this bonding between our organizations’ clients.”
A dedicated team of Ohel and Etta staff contributed to the success of the event, including Henriette Kadoch, Hadar Barak, Leah Schachter, Josh Taff, Ariella Seiger, Adam Rhodes, and Nati Schreiber. Others in attendance at the Shabbaton included Adrin Nazarian, 46th District assemblymember, and his field representative, Mindy Lake; Carol Koransky, executive vice president and executive director of Valley Alliance; Michael Halpern, president of Congregation Shaarey Zedek; and Sharon Levine, co-president of the Etta Ohel board.
Visiting from New York as well, Ohel’s director of communications Derek Saker said that “the newfound East-to-West coast relationship allows Ohel and Etta to leverage a national breadth of service expertise, further break down stigma and drive greater community-wide integration across the U.S.”
Devorah, an adult resident from an Ohel Bais Ezra in Brooklyn, perhaps best encapsulated the week’s experience when she said, “No matter what abilities we may have, or whatever our backgrounds, we are all one family!”
Visit www.ohelfamily.org to view pictures and videos from the amazing event! v