When visiting Israel, tourists often like to get actively involved in the community, local projects and organizations. It’s an experience that benefits everyone, from the organization that’s being helped to the visitors who get to feel like they belong, at least for a short while.
Photography: Gary Teasdale
That’s how the Zivans, a former Rochester, New York family of seven, felt when they spent a pre-Passover afternoon at Shutaf, a Jerusalem-based, informal-education program for children and teens with special needs. With vacation programming during Chanukah, Passover and summer breaks, Shutaf runs a keytana – the Hebrew word for day camp — for its participants, kids with special needs and typically-developing school-age children who get to take part in arts and crafts, music, sports and other activities during the week and two-week-long camps.
For the Zivans, their afternoon at Shutaf was enlightening, broadening and revelatory.
“Did you ever land on a project and feel energy and excitement about its potential growth? That’s how I felt when we visited Shutaf,” said Karen Zivan. “There were counselors with their arms around the kids, campers of all kinds helping to make their schedule for the next day, everyone helping setting the outdoor tables, serving the homemade lunch, and it was calm.”
Founded by Beth Steinberg and Miriam Avraham, both mothers of children with special needs who felt repeatedly frustrated by the lack of programming and activities for their children and others, Shutaf has become a community project, a meaningful source of employment for teenagers and a place to have fun for the campers. For visitors, it’s an opportunity to see good works in process.
“People love ‘doing’, not just giving,” says Arnie Draiman, a friend of Shutaf. “Meeting with Mitzvah heroes like Beth and Miriam and seeing them and their projects in action is a significant experiential moment for them.”
With its new inclusion model – 75% children with special needs and 25% typically developing children – Shutaf is innovative and unusual, says Shutaf director Deborah Lobel. Children are grouped together – mixed ages and disabilities – with a high staff-child ratio and extra support provided as needed. In its three years of existence, Shutaf has created and developed a quality, informal-educational approach, with professional planning methods that mean quality experiences for every child and teen.
“Come visit us and see what we’re doing,” says Deborah. “Shutaf is modeling a unique type of coexistence for Jerusalem children, creating a special place of learning, of core Jewish and social values and happy times together.”
Da’at Educational Expeditions is a supporter of Shutaf. If you want to visit Shutaf on your Da’at Israel Tour Experience, contact us. Da’at feels that interaction with social action projects is an important part of the Israel Tour experience.
To read and hear more about Shutaf, see the Shutaf movie, website and newsletter.