|Chanukah is family time - a chance for warm, homey gatherings and fun-filled family trips. But for families with a special needs child, Chanukah can be the most difficult time of year, a week when even special frameworks close their doors and leave parents to cope with their challenging member 24/7.
Where the school system ends - Ezer Mizion begins! This year, Ezer Mizion hosted a four day sleep-away retreat over Chanukah in the southern city of Netivot for 61 children with a range of special needs - CP, PDD, Down's Syndrome, retardation and ADHD.
The retreat was coordinated by Shevy Katz, and her dedicated assistants. They were ably assisted by dozens of volunteers, one for each of the children, as well as the resident clowns - three ebullient girls in clown costume and make-up, who were in charge of morning line-ups, musical programs and maintaining a non-stop fun atmosphere.
The retreat took place in two Netivot dormitories, equipped with a full kitchen and clean-up staff. From eight in the morning until seven in the evening, the children were regaled with round-the-clock programs - magicians, crafts, petting zoos, trips, musical performances, and more. In addition, every evening, in a moving ceremony, a different guest lit Chanukah candles with the children, followed by lively singing and dancing.
The logistics involved in arranging the retreat were unbelievably demanding. But it was worth it! The children had a fantastic time. As Shevy points out: "At least as important, was to give their parents a chance to enjoy a calm, pleasant Chanukah with the rest of the family. Some of the participating children were so difficult that they could not be left alone for a fraction of a moment during the day - and then they would be up several times at night as well. For their parents, it was literally a life-saver, and we were thrilled to be able to give them that breather!"