Thursday, June 27, 2013

True Superheroes Coming to a Store Near You

I’m a fan of Shalva. They are an absolutely amazing organization, and I’ve become more of a fan since I’ve gotten to know them through Matan’s sponsorship in the Jerusalem Marathon. Last year, he raised over 4000 shekel for their services for special  needs infants, children and young adults. I saw the way that they enjoyed themselves with their counselors during the marathon, and I have heard from parents about the many amazing resources that they offer to their children.

So, when I saw an advertisement for a new venture that they were doing and a parlor meeting taking place in Neve Daniel, I couldn’t resist.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Shalva has done it again. Shalva was founded in May of 1990 by Kalman and Malki Samuels to help families with similar needs to their own. Shalva started with the belief that special needs children shouldn’t only be cared for by their families, but that they could benefit from therapeutic  programs and a warm outside environment.

A few years ago, a study came out showing that Israelis have a terrible impression of those with special needs. According to the statistics, 50% of those polled wouldn’t want to have a neighbor with a special needs child. They wouldn’t want their child in the same school, and more. Shalva was incredibly shocked and disheartened by these statistics.

But rather than complaining, worrying and shaking their fist at those who misunderstand, they took action.

They created a brilliant outreach program that is designed to teach children (and the adults in their lives) about people with disabilities and to promote their acceptance.

They invited artists from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design to come to the school and to work with their team to create three games (go-fish, a memory game and a puzzle), a coloring book, a comic book and a flip book that all feature children with disabilities. Conceived by Loubaton, the True Superheroes project is a joint venture between Shalva and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem.

So, last night they had a parlor meeting in Neve Daniel to introduce the True Superheroes initiative. They gave the background to the project and the need for it, and then they explained each product. I bought the comic book and the go-fish cards.

The cards are absolutely beautiful with heavy stock paper, crisp graphics and a lovely format. You have to find four cards about the same child from Shalva. She or he is a superhero and is introduced with four attributes about her. My children spent the morning before school looking over the cards and the afternoon playing the game. They quickly noticed that the cards included unusual drawings and pictures of children who were slightly different than they were. And this led to questions, discussions and comparisons. It was truly a magical way to introduce my children to the idea of the special needs kid.

Similarly, the comic book offers a rarely seen perspective about special needs kids. Even my thirteen year old couldn't put it down.

I left the evening feeling inspired and hoping that their message and their materials will spread. As Shalva describes the project on their website, “True Superheroes demonstrates that children with disabilities possess their own unique attributes and characteristics worthy of emulation, which make them real heroes.

Real heroes, indeed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Teacher Becomes the Student

Neve Daniel is a very busy community. There are many Rabbis in our area who work at Yeshivas and Midrashas (post-high school learning programs).  And there are many community leaders who work with Masa and Birthright programs. They invite their students to come for Shabbat frequently, and they send out requests to the community to house and feed these students. Sometimes we say yes, and other times our own lives take over and we just don’t have the time or the energy to entertain.

This past week fell into the latter category. One of our friends was trying to find housing for a large group of post-college kids from North America, South America and other locations who wanted to come and see what an orthodox community and a traditional Shabbat looked like.

It sounded lovely.

But I was tired.

So, we ignored the emails and figured that our amazing community would step up and make sure the students were housed and fed.

Then, one of the organizers sent us a personal email, gently asking if we would participate.

And of course we couldn’t say no.

And the weekend was a reminder of so many things.

It reminded me of how wonderful it is to say yes, and how beneficial for our own spiritual and emotional development it is to open our home.

It reminded me of the amazing work that so many are doing to bring people to Israel and to expose them to situations and people with whom they might not normally interact.

We hosted the program educational director (who is Israeli) and one of the participants.

As we started talking to the participant, who I’ll call Peter, his story unfolded and surprised us all. He explained that his mother is Peruvian and Jewish, his father Vietnamese and Buddhist. He was raised with no religion. And then, one day when he failed a test in English class in sixth grade, his teacher required a parent’s note. When he returned to school the next day with his mom’s signature, the Jewish teacher turned to him and said, “Peter, are you Jewish?”

“Jewish!? Of course not,” he said. “Um, I don’t think so.”

And thus began his journey. He was, indeed, Jewish, and didn’t know it.

Flash forward many years. He ended up going on Birthright and exploring his Jewish roots. He joined the American army to pay for college (which my kids found fascinating and awesome!) and served in Iraq for a year (that made for some great table conversation). Now, at 31, he was taking 5 months off of his professional, post-MBA consulting job in New York City to come to Israel, study Hebrew, participate in an internship and explore his roots.


And had I continued to say “No, thank you” and “I’m tired” to the request to host these visitors, we would have missed out on the richness and uniqueness that Peter brought to our table.

I hope he enjoyed himself as much as we did.

And thank you, Peter, and the Career Israel program for reminding me why it is so important that we open our homes to these visitors and to these programs.

Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of the learning, hearing about how one Jewish soul came to his roots and the path that he has taken since then. What a great reminder for me of the many ways that there are to be Jewish, and the many ways that we come to our heritage.

I loved being on the receiving end of the lessons this Shabbat, having originally thought that I would be the teacher for these visitors. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mianzi: Products that Make a Difference

People are always posting things on Facebook and encouraging others to take a look. Sometimes I take a look, and other times I pass things by. Someone who I greatly respect in our community recently posted that his cousin is creating an amazing product and that it is worth a look.

And so I looked.

Now, I have absolutely no stake in this company. I don’t know the owner personally and I have nothing to gain from it.

But boy is this a lovely idea. 

The creator of this product on Kickstarter, Richard Nachum Kligman, lives in Bet Shemesh (about half an hour from us).  He has an impressive background as the Co-Founder & CEO of, Founder of Ideago Start-Up Labs, Founder of Viewbix, Founder of Mianzi Fashion, President of KosherVend Ltd., Co-Founder of, Co-Founder at, and more.

He explains that his latest venture, the Mianzi clothing line, came about as a result of his son’s needs. His son, Moishy, has cerebral palsy and low muscle tone in his mouth. His son was returning from school every day in a bib, and Richard wished that there were a better alternative for his son, and for others like him. While trying to find a shirt for his son that was high quality, quick-drying, anti-bacterial and absorbent, Richard realized that such a product just didn’t exist in the market.

And so, rather than sighing and getting back to regular life like most of us would, he created the Mianzi line of shirts. The video here explains a great deal about the product and about how it serves both the special needs community and others.

They are approximately half way to their mark of getting the $19,000 that they need to start producing these shirts. Whether you have a special needs child who could benefit from such a product, you like the idea of owning a high quality sports shirt, or you just love the entrepreneurial spirit that people like Richard have, think about joining in this amazing endeavor. Even a pledge of $1 will be appreciated.

Moishy, and thousands others like him will thank you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Starting a Revolution...One Diaper at a Time

Yakir is potty training himself.

I say that he’s training himself because the Sussmans have some pretty hard and fast rules. And one of these rules is “No potty training takes place until the child is good and ready.”

Now, this rule means that we have only brought one child to three year old gan (nursery school) potty trained. Our boys don’t seem interested in the whole training thing, and we have never – ever – pushed them on it until it’s gotten ridiculous. We always get a kick out of going to nursery school and having the teacher say, “What do you mean your son isn’t trained? Almost everyone is trained!” and then we look around to see the puddles under many of the children’s desks and the discarded piles of peed-upon clothing. Yeah, your kids are really trained.

Our favorite story was with Amichai. When he started three year old gan with a very strict teacher, she declared that it was ridiculous that he wasn’t trained and that she would soon whip him into shape. “Ok,” I said with a smirk, “You go ahead and do that.”

At Chanukah, she came to me and said, “This is the hardest child I’ve ever seen in my 20 year career. What do you think about waiting for Pesach to train him?”

Told ya.

And so, we’ve always waited until that golden moment – the opportunity to seize the day – when they will be trained within 48 hours with nary an accident to speak of.

And then Yakir was born.

He’s named for my Papa Jerry, and you will often find me muttering to myself, “Papa! Come on! Give a woman a rest. What were you thinking with this one?” 

Yakir has the energy and spirit that any 22 year old mother would dream of enjoying.

But 22 I’m not.

So, last week when his teacher, Anat, told me that he ripped off his diaper and declared himself potty trained, I laughed. And then I proceeded to put his diaper back on when he came home from school, day after day after day. At some point, she pulled me aside and berated me, as only the daycare teachers in Israel know how to do, saying that he really was having success in school and that it was high time that I got with the program.

Good lord.

So, we kept his diaper off for a few days, and watched him pee and poop all over the floor of the house. Meanwhile, he was perfect at daycare, and I was stunned each day when I picked him up and he was still wearing the same clothes.

Finally, a week or so into the process, he started catching on at home as well, although his favorite place to pee is still in the garden or on the bricks on our porch. Hmmmm…

He’s still pooping in his pants at least twice a day at home, which makes for some awesome afternoons and some very creative early morning fun. I’m hoping that one will take care of itself sometime soon.

And apparently, he’s leading a revolution in school. Anat reports that he recently went around to all 100 children in the various classes in the daycare who range in age from 3 month to 3 years, declaring that everyone needed to throw off their diapers.

That evening, I pictured children across the yishuv declaring themselves diaper-free while peeing on the floor, and pointing the finger at the rabble-rouser, Yakir.

Yes, we went into hiding after that incident.

Never fear, Papa. This guy is putting your antics, your energy and your creativity to good use. Looks like he will live up to those Purple Hearts that you earned…and then some.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

It IS About The Bike...and So Much More

Before Matan’s bar mitzvah, we discussed with him that he needed to put aside a certain amount of money for tzedakah (charity). We weren’t sure, however, where he should direct that charity. Matan offered one idea, primarily because it’s the only charity he really knows much about. I hesitated. There is nothing wrong with that charity, certainly, but I would end up writing the check and Matan would never really have anything to do with it all.

So we kept the money in the bank and kept thinking.

Last week, on the Efrat email list, someone posted a message that caught our attention. The woman explained that her daughter was finishing her second year of Sherut Leumi (National Service) at a home for troubled boys. Esther works with one particularly special boy, Or, who is having his bar mitzvah soon. Would anyone, perhaps, like to donate a brand new bike to the bar mitzvah boy?

Josh forwarded me the email and I nearly plotzed. This was it! I emailed the mom back, not realizing at the time that she was one of my neighbors and the mom of one of Matan’s good friends. I told her that I loved the idea, but that I would have to see what Matan thought.

That afternoon, when Matan came home from school, I told him about the boy and the story. “Mommy!” he declared. “It’s perfect. I love sports. So getting someone a bike would be so cool. And he’s a bar mitzvah boy just like me. Let’s do it.”

And so the perfect connection was made and executed. We spoke a number of times to figure out exactly what was needed and how to pull it off. The boy is an orphan and has no extended family. When Esther asked him what he wanted for his bar mitzvah, his answer was “a bike.” She explained that there was absolutely no way he would be getting a bike. There was no money, no family, no fund, nothing. “I know,” he said. “I know I’m not getting it. But I would sure love a bike.”

Friday, we called Chaim Wizman who owns a running and biking specialty store in Bet Shemesh called Al Derech Burma. His store includes running shoes, biking supplies, bike rentals and more. He loved the idea and couldn’t wait for us to arrive at the store. He thought it was incredibly touching and was honored to be part of such a mitzvah. We told Chaim how much we had to spend and he kept saying, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. We’ll make it work.”

Josh, Matan and Eliav drove to the store, where Chaim had already put aside a bike. It was an expensive bike, equipped with a helmet, a bottle holder and a bottle. And he gave it all to us for the amount that Matan had to offer.

Matan brought the bike over to Esther’s house directly from the bike store. Matan was a bit overwhelmed by all of the attention he received, both at the bike store and from Esther’s family, but he was thrilled to be able to do such an amazing mitzvah. He wrote a note to Or and we blew up a picture of Matan and Chaim in front of the store with the bike to send along as well.

May Or have a beautiful bar mitzvah and enjoy his new bike for years to come. And may Matan continue to receive joy from the act of giving, as much as we do from watching him learn such beautiful values. And if you happen to need a bike or quality running shoes in Israel - Chaim is definitely your man.