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Israel With Rafi


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Planning a trip with a person who has sensory or other issues can be a real challenge. Rafi and his Mom, both on the Autism Spectrum, traveled in Israel during his Bar Mitzvah year. Their trip was far different from the usual one.

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Israel With Rafi

  1. 1. The first slides here are, I am sure, scenes many have seen before fromthe typical, ten day, “If it is Friday, this must be Yerushalayim” tour in Israel.
  2. 2. Its Jewish Disability Awareness Month, but awareness is only a beginningand in our experience has often served to exclude our family members.It needs to be followed by under standing, inclusion, and acceptance, and many or ganizations have a long way to go.
  3. 3. “Special” pr og r ams that er ect a wall between us withdisabilities and the r est of Klal Yisr ael ar e no more inclusive than par allel play is playing with another.
  4. 4. Our experience with Rafi, who started out dead but is much better now thanks to tehillim, faith and medicine, has been we are constantly having to construct doors to allow his entry.
  5. 5. Programs for those with medical issues will not accept him, programs for thosewith behavior or learning issues throw up extra barriers, and both direct him to inappropriate programs for those far more cognitively impaired than he is.
  6. 6. I figur ed that g r oup Isr ael experiences would be no dif ferent,so I took the bull by the hor ns during Rafis Bar Mitzvah year.
  7. 7. To accommodate the need for flexibility, and time to adjust, I planned a long trip, from Purim through Passover. To keep costs down, and keep surroundingsrelatively small and familiar, I contacted homeschoolers, friends, friends of friends, and joined
  8. 8. Rafis initial “Back pay” from Social Security Disability bought the round trip planetickets from Chicago and a set of Rosetta Stone Hebrew to familiarize him with the sound of modern Hebrew and introduce basic vocabulary.
  9. 9. As part of Social Studies, we learned about Israeli history and geography in advance, and brought the textbook along.
  10. 10. It was my first return to Israel since the Machon le-Madrichei Chutz La-aretz, 39years before. Because at that time I had no ASD label I was fully included though the expected bullying did occur.
  11. 11. After going through culture shock the journey gave me the opportunity to see present-day Israel through Rafis eyes in addition to my own.
  12. 12. We did a lot of walking, took buses and trains, and only took free tours. Pleasure boats were not in the budget.
  13. 13. I was able to plan for visits at relatively uncrowded times – except when I didntknow about the crowds, like on the second day of Passover when I decided, on a whim, to go to Masada.
  14. 14. Most thirteen year olds are bundles of contradictions. Rafi, having many interests common to younger kids, is even more so – and keeps us honest.
  15. 15. Much to my surprise, we arrived to 80 degree daytime temperatures, and Rafis sandals, packed away 6 months before while still too big, no longer fit.
  16. 16. Off to the Mall where we found red crocs and familiar Disney characters for them.
  17. 17. Having Crocs and Kosher McDonalds available really smoothed over some potential rough spots for us.
  18. 18. Being able to take most of a morning, pretty much at will, to walk the streets, bus into the Old City or Machane Yehuda (which quickly became Rafis favorite excursions) or go to the park were hallmarks of the trip.
  19. 19. Broad understanding of both gluten sensitivity and Autism among Israelis helped me to feel I had found my village. Finding Kosher for Passover restaurant and junk food was a real treat!
  20. 20. And no longer being the only Jew, or one of few, resulted in an easing of some of Rafis anxiety issues.
  21. 21. Games transcend language. Our first evening in the Old City was lengthened by
  22. 22. Soccer scrimmage in the plaza in the Jewish quarter
  23. 23. Seeing Rafis eyes light up as he encountered the Kotel (Western Wall), or EinGedi, or an olive tree, or the Mediterranean Sea, places and things about which he had only read or heard before, was exciting.
  24. 24. While at times frightening, having to allow Rafi to find his own way on the Mensside was good for me. It gave him the opportunity to take his time while I watched for his red hat from the other side.
  25. 25. Walking on the Ramparts of Jerusalem was good fun! Especially when we met a class of sixth graders on a school trip.
  26. 26. Rafi saw this young man before I. The image, entitled “Bad Habit” for Rafis opinion of smoking, has become a popular part of my portfolio.
  27. 27. Rafi loves to help. Familiar processes and unfamiliar places merged – recycling by Jerusalems Walls.
  28. 28. Ever observant, Rafi was excited whenever he saw boys dressed like his Cheder friends, which was often, in Jerusalem.
  29. 29. Like generations of other youth, he tried to escape the heat in the branches of this olive tree.
  30. 30. A familiar symbol in the cement, without U.S. gang connotations.
  31. 31. Purim in Yerushalayim at the Mall – Rolly needs no translatio, nor does the boys pirate costume. There was an immediate connection..
  32. 32. He knows the gameboard but not the house rules – and Rafi treated all alike, with respect and curiosity.
  33. 33. Most of our long distance travels were late on Thursday or early on Sunday, when Israels “commuter army” is on the road. Soldiers practiced their English with Rafi, treating him like a little brother. He extracted candy from them.
  34. 34. Rafis encounters with antiquity had a sensory component.
  35. 35. In the present, the sensation is rough and maybe not all that different from when kids touched the walls in times past.
  36. 36. And then there were familiar words and places! This became the cover of Rafis Bar Mitzvah program.
  37. 37. At Masada, though Rafi knew the story, he responded with his senses, comparingrocks, drawing in the sand, watching his shadow near high noon. He was in tune with the kids living there in times past.
  38. 38. I used the internet, especially Israeli National Parks YouTube videos for immediate preparation and background. After a long day at Masada, with rapid transition away, meltdown ensued.
  39. 39. A young employee got the Park Director in order to see how they could help. Rafi recognized him from a You Tube video, and settled down immediately, seeing a familiar face..who said he would “see you at Masada” and now had.
  40. 40. A pet shop selling budgies! Most Eilat tours don’t include this stop, but Rafis did.
  41. 41. A familiar Chanukiah, representing friends! We could not move on until I had taken this photo.
  42. 42. Familiar words – on a beach! Again, keeping a record of them was important.
  43. 43. The Fab Four! Rafi was both surprised and delighted to see them pictured even in Eilat.
  44. 44. All this and Kosher for Passover Junk Food as well – followed by a return to Kibbutz Ketura with Sabath dinner in the Dining Hall.
  45. 45. After meeting many people, of different backgrounds, throughout the center of the country – Rafi draws a “family tree” in the sand at Herzliya. Its roots are in Israel.
  46. 46. For Rafi, friends come in all ages. We visited an old friend, last seen when he was ten, and his family on Kibbutz Saad for tea.
  47. 47. In Haifa, as in other cities, feral cats are everywhere.
  48. 48. Rafi knows and likes cats. We took portraits of many, and spent Seder with the President of the Jerusalem SPCA, her family and rescued dogs and cats.
  49. 49. This public art work with its science fiction references, was a favorite of Rafis.
  50. 50. It, and the Wall in Jerusalem, tie present to past for us all.