Dallas’ Yachad is represented in Israel at Yad b’Yad
By Deb Silverthorn
It was bashert that Tova Kam and Shira Ruttenberg met in the Akiba Academy preschool class with teachers Miriam Geller and Terri Rohan. Bashert — meaning “meant to be” — seems to follow these two, now juniors in high school at Mesorah High School for Girls and Fusion Academy respectively, as they unintentionally connected on the same Yachad Yad b’Yad summer trip to Israel. Yachad Yad b’Yad, according to its website, is a summer experience that brings teens with and without disabilities together for a five-week travel adventure across Israel.
“Yachad is the most caring group with a purpose of connection and inclusion,” Kam said. “When I heard about the trip to Israel, I knew it was with the kind of people I wanted to be around. It makes sense that Shira [Ruttenberg] was there because that’s who she is too.”
Kam and Ruttenberg had both been to Israel with their families, but Yad b’Yad’s itinerary proved out of the box. Nearly 100 participants built rafts and raced on the Kineret, visited citizens at the Lebanese border, met IDF soldiers, volunteered in an absorption center, met a scribe, climbed mountains and toured a chocolate factory.
“We’re thrilled that Tova [Kam] and Shira [Ruttenberg] joined the ranks of those who’ve represented Dallas in Israel at leadership programs and as a part of Dallas’ wonderful chapter,” said Avromie Adler, international director of Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. “Our mission is inclusion in all aspects of Jewish life and our partnership with Dallas’ community helps meet that.”
Kam and Ruttenberg toured, volunteered, and studied. Every activity was programmed to allow inclusiveness and participation by all.
“Everyone belongs,” Ruttenberg said. “It doesn’t matter if we look or act the same. That’s the key to Yachad and it’s how I live so I respect the organization. I had the best summer and to do so much, through the perspective of everyone, is something I’ll never forget.”
In just five weeks, beginning with four days of leadership sensitivity training, the best souvenir they brought home will last a lifetime.
“One person had severe anxiety about noise and even the joyfulness of davening and Shabbat was too much,” Kam said. “I watched what it took for them to be comfortable.
“Someone in a wheelchair rode the zipline — in a wheelchair. People don’t always think about how to bring everyone into our activities but as long as we are looking to do things that can be inclusive, and make others feel comfortable, we’ll always find a way.”
The Dallas Yachad chapter — through challah bakes and game nights, dining club events, Shabbatons and holiday programming — gives individuals living with special needs the chance to develop vital social skills and friendships. The Dallas Yachad chapter will host a Sukkot Drum Circle at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 20 at Congregation Shaare Tefilla.
“Shira and Tova have an even more enhanced appreciation of finding ways of including everyone,” Dallas Yachad Director Rohan said. “It’s about seeing what others can do, not what they can’t. It’s everyone participating — not ‘volunteers’ and ‘others,’ but about a community always appreciating each person’s gifts.”
It’s the small acts of kindness that both Kam and Ruttenberg take into every day.
“Leave a space open for someone who doesn’t have a seat, have conversations with people you might not,” Kam said. “Joy rubs off and it’s good.”
For information on Dallas Yachad events and membership, email DallasYachad@ou.org. For details about Yad b’Yad, visit yachad.org/yby.