By Henry Weltman
From the moment our cohort walked into the front doors of Shalva, we knew we were in a magical place. There were kids everywhere! Some were watching television, others waiting with the supervisors for their parents to pick them up, and we were lucky enough to shake hands with a few more extroverted kids in the lobby.
Hanging from the ceiling were dozens of butterflies, connected by a thin wire, which allowed them to spin around and show all sides. At first I thought they were just meant to decorate the entrance way, but we soon learned that the butterfly was an important symbol at Shalva. A butterfly’s journey is not easy. They must first begin as a caterpillar, then go through a challenging metamorphosis process. We were told that this difficult yet glorious process is similar to that of which the kids of Shalva are able to overcome in their time with the organization. They begin with challenges, but through proper nurturing and care, the children are able to thrive.
Our tour guide, Sammy Shapiro, met us in the lobby, led us to a large conference room, and introduced our Nachshon cohort to Shalva and their mission by showing us a rather emotional video. We learned about the founders of Shalva, Malki and Kalman Samuels, who initially wanted to create a therapeutic environment in which children with disabilities could grow and prosper. What originally started as an afternoon program for only eight children has now grown into a national center which assists thousands of families across the spectrum of Israeli society.
The facilities were magnificent. Sammy walked us by their Olympic sized pool, basketball court completed with stadium style seating, beautiful hand painted murals across all the walls of the building, and a stunning rooftop playground with an incredible view of Jerusalem and beyond. Additionally, their synagogue was beautiful and very intentionally built. In particular, the arc where their torah was housed was shaped like the torah itself, in order to help the children at Shalva understand what awaited inside. By far my favorite experience at Shalva happened just as we exited the stairwell into a room full of children and volunteers. They were all busy doing arts and crafts, but there was music playing and the follows and I could not resist dancing. We all filed into the room and spread out among the kids, who joined us in dancing. For a few minutes everyone was going crazy, singing loudly, cheering each other on while some kids were break dancing, others dancing in groups, and everyone having a blast.
At the culmination of the tour, Sammy showed us some Shalva swag and I, along with many of the members of the cohort, bought Shalva sweatshirts, on which said “ADIDAS.” This acronym stands for “All day I dream about Shalva,” which is powerful considering we left Shalva excited to find opportunities to volunteer for the organization. I am very grateful to have had the chance to meet and dance with those kids, as well as learn about the incredible opportunities Shalva provides for their families and members. The mantra is true, all day I dream about Shalva!