Nysha Recent News

Reflecting Healing of Old, Hamaspik Invokes Modern Miracle of Integration

July 8, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Shavuos Holiday Marked with Community Participation—and a Few Flowers

Of all the Jewish holidays celebrated by the communities serviced by Hamaspik, only one historically comprises the theme (among several others) of disability inclusion and integration.

Shavuos (shah-voo-ohs) marks the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai some 3,300 years ago—a supernatural event which, according to tradition, included the miraculous healing of all individuals from any and all disabilities.

Today’s notion that everyone has a place at the table is reflected in the Shavuos notion that everyone had a place at the mountain.  And that inclusion is especially resonant at Shavuos—a holiday whose meaning of spiritual mission also means a spiritual mission accessible to all.

Shades of Shavuos

A longstanding custom is to accentuate synagogue décor with flora come Shavuos, evoking the rainbow of foliage that sprung to life on Mt. Sinai in the run-up to the Giving of the Torah. 

Same thing with the home.

Be it kaleidoscopic flowers or rustic leaves and branches, live vegetation brings the holiday to life—and all the more so across Hamaspik, where flower pots were the norm on dinner-table tops and window sills before and during the three-day observance.

(The two-day Shavuos fell this year on Sunday and Monday—but with the Saturday Sabbath immediately preceding Shavuos, the result was three consecutive days of holiday spirit.)

From rich reds, greens, blues and yellows to nuanced purples, oranges, pinks and whites, the hues and shades of the botanical world painted every Hamaspik residence every color of the spectrum.

But to bring that rainbow into the home, you first have to go to the “paint store”—the botanical gardens, nurseries and florists all across New York.  It was to those locations that Hamaspik caregivers streamed with their charges before Shavuos to snap up fresh flowers and such.

Lovely lilacs, ornate orchids, and redolently resplendent roses dramatized the décor across Hamaspik of Kings County’s South 9th Shvesterheim IRA. 

Flowery colors were likewise on display at the Forshay IRA, Hamaspik of Rockland County’s first group residence for people with special needs, with rich red rosebuds and pleasantly purple planters livening up the living and dining rooms.

Horticulture at the Concord Briderheim also kept things simple—and simply colorful—with rustic live branches cut off a tree decorating dining-room corners and flower pots occupying the central table. 

While the holiday highlight at Concord was setting up the foliage, the natural touches were only part of the bigger picture of warm meals and quality time spent with fellow residents at home and community members out at synagogue.

Servings of holiday spirit

A longtime Direct Support Professional (DSP) at the Dinev Inzerheim Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) described the standard flowers filling the residence with a fresh air—and the spirit of the holiday filling Dinev’s atmosphere.

Against the backdrop of the beautiful buds, the residents sang the numerous Shavuos songs they had learned in their outside community schools in the weeks running up to the holiday, with some even following along out of the song booklets provided to each.

They also enjoyed the ample dairy food items on hand.

Per millennia of custom, a daily meal is eaten on the first day of the holiday, to remember the dairy-only diet to which the ancient Jews were temporarily restricted at the Giving of the Torah.  The result is an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy products come Shavuos time.

At Hamaspik of Kings County’s 38th St. Shvesterheim, while some residents went to their own families’ homes for Shavuos, some deliberately chose to remain because they didn’t want to miss the Yom Tov spirit at Hamaspik—which, besides the holiday spirit itself, also consisted of plenty of cheesecake, blintzes and flowers.

At Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Arcadian Briderheim IRA, staff report that, thanks to the lovely weather gracing greater New York during its two days (save for a bit of rain), residents maximized the opportunity to enjoy their backyard porch and the perfect outdoor temperature.

At the Grandview Briderheim IRA, the boys enjoyed the balmy atmospherics to spend time on their backyard swings.  Naturally, like most able-bodied individuals across Hamaspik’s residences, several Grandview residents also attended their local synagogue for the focal point of the holiday: the reading of the Torah portion recounting the Giving of the Torah, a critical selection seen not as history but as a spiritual and very real reliving of that historical event.

Hamaspik of Orange County’s Bakertown Shvesterheim “Step-Down” IRA, so named for the step down in supervision required by its high-functioning residents, lived up to its name in a perhaps-novel way—what with the young women baking their cheesecakes and other dairy goodies before Shavuos.

Shavuos may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks “Jewish holiday.”

But Shavuos is no less significant than any other Jewish holiday—especially since it celebrates the Torah, the morality manual and ethical foundation not just of Jewish society but of all Western civilization.

And it’s also flowery.  Literally.