“Are you RiRi’s mom!?” asked my tablemate excitedly at Shabbos lunch this past January. I was in Florida with my daughter, Arianna (RiRi) Sharfman, my husband, Dr. William Sharfman, and hundreds of other Yachad runners and supporters at the 2015 Team Yachad Miami Marathon Shabbaton. What prompted this woman’s question was my casual comment that my daughter, Arianna, a senior at Beth Tfiloh High School, had participated in Yad b’Yad last summer. Yad b’Yad is a Yachad (NCSY) inclusion program that brings teens and young adults with special needs to Israel along with typical high school kids.
It turns out that this woman’s daughter, a teen with special needs, was also on the Yad b’Yad trip, and her daughter and my daughter were friends. She proceeded to tell me how Arianna and the Yad b’Yad girls keep in touch with her daughter, who is now spending the year in Israel at Darkaynu, a seminary for young women with special needs. “Yad b’Yad was a life-changing experience for my daughter,” she explained. “Without Yad b’Yad, she would never have had the independence and confidence to go to Israel on her own. The girls of Yad b’Yad were literally her first real friends – friends who call and text her, friends who post on her Facebook wall, friends who invite her to go for pizza with them.”
This chance meeting was the highlight of my Shabbos. I immediately brought the mother over to where Arianna and the other Yad b’Yad girls were sitting, and introduced them; there were lots of tears all around! Yad b’Yad was a life-changing experience not only for this woman’s daughter but for my daughter, as well. Arianna experienced living a truly inclusive lifestyle, in terms of a community that all of the Yad b’Yad members built together. She is excited to have brought back the intensity of that experience to her work with Yachad Baltimore as a high school board member.
Two mothers, two daughters, one life-changing experience. This is Yachad-Yad b’Yad: inclusion at its best.
For more information about Yad b’Yad, please contact me at email@example.com or 410-227-3886.
On Being a Yachad Peer
by Arianna (RiRi) Sharfman
It seems that we have come very far in society: Buildings are required to have ramps, parking spots are designated as “handicapped,” and terminology has become slightly more sensitive. But have we really come so far? Students get community service points just for interacting with people with special needs. What if we started getting community service points every time we spoke to someone who had a minor medical condition? Many times people think that just because someone has special needs, that person is not a contributing member of society. We need to be moving towards a point where inclusion of all people comes naturally.
These kinds of thoughts have blossomed since my involvement with Yachad. While, admittedly, I went to my first meeting six years ago to fulfill my own community service requirement, I have been involved ever since, as a peer and as a high school board member. Yachad has taught me how to become a more inclusive and sensitive individual, which is a life-long journey.
People often ask me what is special or different about Yachad and why I am so involved. I tell them that Yachad is my point of view on community. With other organizations, “volunteers” work with a participant to “help” that person, because he or she is “in need.” Yachad is about peer-to-peer relationships, establishing mutually beneficial friendships where all are on equal footing. We need to be doing everything we can to ensure that this type of relationship becomes the norm, so that all have a place in both the Jewish and general communities. However, this is not something that can happen overnight, which is why youth programming is so important: to establish this point of view on community to those who will next be leading and shaping our community.
I was able to live this ideal last summer during the Yad b’Yad trip. It was Yachad “24/7,” instead of just one or two hours per month. All of us built a symbiotic community of friendship together. For me, it was an intensely satisfying growth experience, which has immensely benefited my work with Yachad Baltimore. This summer, I will be continuing to work with Yachad as a Fellow in the leadership training program at Camp Nesher.
When I look at the world around me, I realize that each one of us has some sort of disability. Some people are good at certain tasks, and others are good at different tasks. We all have something, even if it is small and hidden, that is holding us back, making life a bit more challenging. I appreciate the opportunity to work within my home community of Baltimore on the critical mission of expanding our notions of inclusivity. I hope that all people, no matter what their disabilities, will one day be included and appreciated for what they bring to the table to benefit our community.