Tikvah Israel Trip — Day Two!
Here’s an update from Tikvah Director Howard Blas on day two of our Tikvah trip to Israel!
Day 2-December 24, 2013
It is Tuesday night in Jerusalem and we have returned from a remarkable day of touring in Rechovot, Ramat HaSharon and Beit Shemesh—and we have very few visual reminders that much of the world is preparing to celebrate Christmas! Our day started with wake up at 6:30 this morning—and everyone arriving for spirited Tikvah davening by 7:15 am—we even started a few minutes early! This allowed time for a restful Israeli breakfast and our hour long bus drive to Rechovot. We visited the Ayalon Institute, the famous underground bullet making factory, used to supply ammunition for use in the War of Independence. Imagine bullets manufactured right under a kibbutz laundry and bakery!
At Ayalon, we were met by my friend and colleague, Micha Daniela of AKIM, the largest provider of services to people with disabilities in Israel. Micha has been telling me for months of several amazing projects of AKIM, including facilitating the service of people with intellectual disabilities in the Israel Defense Forces. Through Micha’s contacts with higher ups in the army, he was able to arrange a visit to the Bar-Lev/MAZI base, a half hour south of Rechovot near the town of Kiryat Malachi. This base of 1,000 soldiers serves as ground command for the entire southern region. Base commander, Yitzchak Akrish, spent several hours teaching about soldiers with disabilities, taking us on a tour, treating us to lunch with hundreds of soldiers, and presenting us with some surprise gifts! Micha explained to us how, in Israel, all are “Equal in Uniform,” and that “serving in the army is a ticket to civilian life.” He explained further that employers usually ask if a potential employee has army experience; being able to answer “yes” is often a “door opener.”
We were impressed by many things. First, the tone the base commander sets on his base around inclusion and acceptance of all people is incredible. He truly values the important work that all of his soldiers do, including those with disabilities. Job include: food services, office work, supplies, drivers, military police, and printing.
We were particularly touched and honored when the base commander presented each of us with an army pen, book of Psalms, group photo and… dog tags!
From the base, we were off to the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Sharon. We learned about the training of elite athletes, as well as programs for people with disabilities, Israeli Arabs and more. We enjoyed participating in a tennis clinic and seeing our dear Tikvah Program founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg, who traveled to see us from their home in Rananna.
The final stop of the night (after battling some terrible Israel rush hour traffic!) was the home of Joel and Debbie Benstein. They live in Beit Shemesh and worked for several years on tech staff. Their children have also worked in camp.
It was truly an amazing day! Tomorrow we are off to Masada and the Dead Sea, where the weather promises to be sunny and warm.