By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
It was a road trip to remember for Dallas’ Yachad chapter, a convoy of advisers, leaders, volunteers, teens and Yachad members who hit Interstate 45 to share Shabbat in Houston at United Orthodox Synagogue.
“Yachad is a social setting for Jewish people of all ages, from preschool to seniors, with group programming for those with all cognitive and physical abilities,” said Terri Rohan, coordinator of the Dallas Yachad chapter. “We take turns hosting an annual Shabbaton. And, to come together with the Houston group — in their city — made for some memories that will last everyone for a lifetime and we definitely look forward to getting together again. We’ve already set the invitation to host for 2018 and we can’t wait.”
For Dallas Yachad member Talor Milstein, among the memories was his honor to have an aliyah during the Torah service. “I remembered it from my bar mitzvah and I did it for my grandfather Allan Zidell, who died last year.”
Dallas’ Yachad chapter gives individuals with special needs the chance to develop vital social skills with their typically developing peers, while becoming confident members of the community. Through Yachad, members learn about their Jewish heritage and participate in the mainstream of Jewish life. All members of the community are invited to share in the inclusive programming.
“Yachad is amazing — it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever participated in,” member Shani Epstein said. “The program focuses around everyone feeling the same, being concerned with everyone’s ideas being supported, and I love that it’s for all ages. The connections I’ve made with people I really wouldn’t ever have met before are really very special and each time I come back to another event, people are warm and almost always somebody new remembers me and sees me as a ‘friend’ they didn’t know before.”
Yachad programs provide opportunities for building self-esteem and enhancing social skills. In the last few months, the group hosted a pizza party and drum circle in the sukkah, and a booth at the Preston Hollow Fall Festival at Congregation Shearith Israel, and Yachad members Eliana Abraham, Rebecca Herschberg, Asher Kogutt, Leib Malina, Simcha Malina, Talor Milstein and young adult volunteer David Rachman attended a high school leadership Shabbaton in Stamford, Connecticut. Upcoming events include a challah bake with CHAI residents, participation in the 2017 Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off, an end-of-year brunch and more.
With chapters in Canada, Israel and 13 cities in the United States, Yachad is dedicated to enhancing the life opportunities of individuals with disabilities of all ages, ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life. A part of the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, Yachad promotes inclusion for children and adults with disabilities in the broader Jewish community, internationally supporting 1,000 participants in its summer programs. Eight hundred individuals with disabilities have attended its job fairs — meeting with employers who support disability employment — and 400 Shabbatons and weekly programs are planned in communities across North America each year.
“We have done Hanukkah parties at Equest therapeutic riding center, we go to the zoo, bowling — really, there’s no limit to the activities as long as we’re having a great time together and we always have a great time,” said Rohan, who works with Assistant Coordinator Sarah Lipinsky. Rohan noted that Yachad member Ben Ackerman taught Tae Kwon Do skills on the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ 2016 Good Deeds Day. “We are always looking for ideas for activities, tickets to events, and people to join us in our spirited fun. This isn’t a volunteer opportunity but a chance for everyone, on equal footing, to have a great time with us and we really encourage everyone to come out, to make some friends, and some wonderful memories.”
For more information or details about future Yachad programming, email RohanT@ou.org or visit yachad.org/dallas.