It was a bittersweet day in mid-August when Yad B’Yad 2015 came to a close.
“There was not a second that I was excluded or alone throughout the trip,” said David Chansky, a Yachad member from Maryland. “I cried at the end of the trip because it was, and will always be, the best summer I ever had. Even after a couple of months, I still love to tell people about my summer.”
Yad B’Yad (YBY), a summer program of Yachad/NJCD (National Jewish Council for Disabilities), brings mainstream high schoolers together with young adults and teens with disabilities for a five-week tour of Israel. YBY is one of twenty-plus summer programs run by Yachad each year, comprised of inclusive sleep-away camps, shadow programs, day camps and Birthright trips.
The first YBY trip in 1995 consisted of just sixteen high school volunteers and thirteen Yachad members. Contrast that to this past summer, which brought a combined 200 participants—100 on each of the two sessions. The program takes the campers across the country from north to south, while they learn and socialize in an inclusive way.
“The most valuable skill I learned [on YBY] was Inclusion, which can be accomplished through body language, conversation and general awareness,” said Robin Tassler of New Jersey, a high schooler who participated in YBY this past summer.
This summer’s activities included (but were not limited to) rappelling and zip-lining, hiking in the Golan, volunteering at the Israel Food Pantry, visiting The Israel Children’s Museum’s Dialogue in the Dark and Invitation to Silence exhibits, painting wall murals and participating in a kumzitz at the Kotel.
Regardless of the activity, the catchphrase of this summer program is “everyone belongs.” In the words of Zack Pollack, a Yachad member from New Jersey, “YBY surrounds me with the love of friends and the acceptance of who I am while bringing me spiritually closer to my Jewish heritage.”
For more information about joining Yad B’Yad this coming summer, visit www.yachad.org/summer/.