We signed up for Yad B’ Yad, Yachad’s Israel travel program for teens with and without disabilities, not knowing what to expect. It turned out to be a life-changing experience that inspired us to get further involved in Yachad. We had made long-lasting friendships and learned the importance of inclusion and of incorporating that mentality into our lives daily. As soon as we got back to school after the summer, we were eager to share our new passion and commitment to this cause with the rest of our school community. Yachad Youth Leadership Council (YYLC), Yachad’s board of active high school leaders from the New York Metropolitan area, gave us the tools to bring Yachad programming back to our school.
We are grateful to our principal, Mrs. Neugroschl at Yeshiva University High School for Girls, for embracing our initiative. She allowed us to establish a Yachad Club at our school. We began the club by introducing participants to Yachad’s mission of inclusion, stressing its famous tagline “Because Everyone Belongs.” Our thirty club members took on organizing a school-wide sensitivity training – a simulation of what it may be like to have a disability, with guidance from Rebecca Schrag, Yachad’s director of School and Community Programming (and Yad B’Yad), and Laura Fruchter, director of Yachad’s program at Camp Morasha. Students left the sensitivity training with a greater appreciation of the tools they have, a greater degree of patience and empathy for their peers, a sense of commitment towards being more welcoming to their peers with disabilities and a thirst for more Yachad programming.
Soon after, we were honored to host the Marilyn David IVDU Upper School – Girls Division (Yachad’s school for young women with disabilities) for a pre-Purim chagigah (party). We loved seeing girls of all abilities come together to usher in the Purim spirit. And we received great feedback from IVDU Upper School as well as from our friends and faculty at school.
Proud to be a part of real change within our school, we feel so empowered every time a peer asks us about using sensitive “person first” language, how to get Yachad apparel, or how to get involved in upcoming events and Shabbatonim. We love the leadership role Yachad empowers us to take, and the position it gives us in our school community. We look forward to our school’s continued involvement with Yachad’s important work and seeing where the Yachad Club will go next.
Yachad has changed our personal lives so much that we did something we never thought was possible: we joined Team Yachad 2014. Running 13.1 miles in Miami with Team Yachad, in support of inclusion, was quite an achievement. It was really hard, but what got us through it was the thought that we were doing it for a cause that means so much to us.
As we began to think about our plans for the upcoming summer, we couldn’t give up the opportunity to spend it with Yachad. This summer, we will both participate in Yachad’s Morris Sandelbaum High School Fellowship Program. This fellowship places students going into 12th grade as staff members in one of Yachad’s summer programs. We were both lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work in Camp Morasha, our first choice.
Yachad Youth Leadership Council helps shape the future of Yachad and implements programs of change within Yachad, schools and communities. Council members participate in leadership development opportunities and serve as inclusion liaisons for their various communities. Looking for relevant and creative ways to educate their communities and share their passions, members help construct and publicize local Yachad events, Shabbatonim and fundraisers. They bring sensitivity trainings, awareness campaigns and speakers on topics relating to disabilities to their local schools and synagogues. Once exposed to their enthusiasm, it’s hard not to join their stimulating projects!
This year YYLC is focusing on purposeful social media. For NAIM (North American Inclusion Month), members created images with inclusion tips for every day of the month – for students, by students – under the tagline #28daysofinclusion. YYLC is currently launching a video competition where individuals can submit video shorts on topics surrounding disabilities.
For more information on YYLC contact Rebecca Schrag at SchragR@ou.org or 212-613-8223.
Michal Grossman and Avital Listman are Juniors at Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls.
This is an article from Belong Magazine 2014. For more information, or to receive your own copy contact firstname.lastname@example.org