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At Chanukah, Glorious Points of Light and Warm Family Feelings Across Hamaspik Residences

December  26, 2016  

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

At Chanukah, Glorious Points of Light and Warm Family Feelings Across Hamaspik Residences

There’s nothing like Chanukah: the warmth and the light of the holiday inside contrasting with the winter cold and dark outside, the family bonding around dinner tables, the songs and the joy.

In that light, Chanukah was most definitely and unabashed embraced and celebrated across the branches of the candelabrum that is the Hamaspik group-home body.

From Hamaspik of Kings County’s 61st St. men’s residence in Brooklyn to the south all the way up to Hamaspik of Orange County’s Acres Briderheim in Kiryas Joel to the north, here’s what Chanukah looked like at residential group homes all across the agency.

Grand(view) Chanukah spirit

At the Grandview Briderheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA), a Hamaspik home in Monsey’s Forshay/Wesley Hills neighborhood, residents’ extended biological families were invited during Chanukah to share the holiday atmosphere with their sons and brothers.

Two families per Chanukah night came to do dinner at Grandview, with fathers and mothers bringing along their own kids—the residents’ brothers and sisters, and even nieces and nephews.

Under the stewardship of Manager Joel Schnitzer, Grandview’s caring Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) set out majestic meals befitting the holiday—serving fresh food both hot and cold and, separately per Jewish law, meat and dairy dishes (the latter being a special Chanukah custom in many communities). 

Music was heard throughout the house on each guest-hosting evening, too, filling the air with Chanukah spirit—a spirit only accentuated by the little gifts that the residents gave their parents upon visiting.

The excited reactions from those parents back to their precious sons upon receiving those gifts, and the bright smiles on their sons’ clean faces, said it all.

Individualized!

The Bakertown Shvesterheim IRA, Hamaspik of Orange County’s “Step-Down” warmth-filled residence for very capable women, was filled with down-home Chanukah spirit throughout the Chanukah week.

The cozy atmosphere one feels upon visiting Bakertown any other time is only enhanced and increased come the holidays, and Chanukah is no exception.

Staff thus held forth Chanukah court, traditional songs and all, each holiday night.

At the same time, Mrs. Appel presided over irresistibly perfect Chanukah dinners, joining residents around the table for that special atmosphere that’s only found in Hamaspik homes on holidays—and that was all aside from cooking up a storm and picking (and presenting) perfect presents for the young ladies residing at Bakertown, presents that they gleefully accepted amid much thanks and genuine appreciation.

“It wasn’t easy to shop for gifts,” Mrs. Appel confides to the Gazette with a smile.  “The residents here have everything they need—so what were we supposed to get them?”  Certainly not unnecessary knickknacks bought to perfunctorily discharge the tradition, a financial frivolity that no Hamaspik home would indulge in anyway.

As such, Mrs. Appel found herself spending quite a bit of time in the run-up to Chanukah pondering what exactly would indeed constitute a meaningful and practical gift to each resident.  And the heartfelt gratitude each resident later expressed, even those least verbose, confirmed that the perfect gifts had indeed been found.

For the birds

Nature’s choir put on a rousing performance one Chanukah night at Hamaspik of Orange County’s Seven Springs Shvesterheim IRA, as the group home yet again hosted a visit by “the Parrot Rebbe, Shlita.”

The professional bird handler and trainer, who performs under that amusing moniker, brought in several cages of his fine feathered friends of various parrot varieties.

In short order, cockatiels, cockatoos, parakeets and parrots were chirping, flapping or otherwise literally putting on a show—which also included a dancing macaw and a free-flying Amazon Parrot.  A good time was had by all.

A visit from an uncle

But the Parrot Rebbe’s avian troupe made a second Hamaspik appearance this Chanukah—this time across the Hudson River (and well down south) at the annual joint holiday party held each year by Hamaspik of Kings County’s 38th St. Shvesterheim and 61st St. Briderheim.

That yearly event was held once again in the side-by-side ballrooms of Brooklyn’s Seville Manor social hall, with 38th Street residents and staff occupying one side and the gentlemen of 61st St. taking their seats in the other.

The get-together kicked off with a Chanukah luncheon for all—with a good number of individuals being served individual servings to meet their exacting health/dietary requirements and/or preferences, such as gluten-free, vegetarian and the like.

The Parrot Rebbe and his trained birds then entertained the guests.

A professional vocalist back by live keyboardist next entertained the crowd for a good few minutes—live music that was only ratcheted up moments later by the appearance of singers Shea and Avremi Berko, whose vocal talents practically had the walls dancing along with their singings.  And the appearance of a few members of the Tantzers dance troupe only made things even more exciting.

Before this report goes any further, here’s a not-so-secret “secret” for you: residents of Hamaspik’s group homes, and residents of any IRA, for that matter, typically harbor a fierce love for music, the language of the soul.

And knowing that “secret” will help you appreciate why the following appearance of the event’s surprise guest shook the very heavens with the joy it triggered among the Hamaspik participants.  That guest, a veritable hero to so many of them, is the well-known youth educator and singer, Rabbi Moshe Tannenbaum—whom you may have heard of by the name he’s more commonly called: Uncle Moishy!

Uncle Moishy’s songs, which have filled a good dozen or so albums over the decades, are likewise filled with educational entertainment and catchy lyrics—and quite a few of Hamaspik’s residents are quite familiar with most of them.

Against that background, you can only imagine the reaction when, at the height of their Chanukah party, who should suddenly walk in wearing his iconic shirt and hat but their beloved Uncle Moishy in person!

Needless to say, none of them could stop dancing, or singing along, or even joining Uncle Moishy at the microphone “onstage.”

Along with Uncle Moishy’s performance came the surprise appearance of Cousin Nachum, one of Uncle’s Moishy’s several stage sidekicks and a superb children’s entertainer in his own right. 

Decked out in his foppish costume complete with clown nose and silly hat, Cousin Nachum proceeded to demonstrate just how well he knows how to (not) juggle, prompting plenty of belly laughs throughout the audience.

A few touching words of thanks to staff were then personally delivered by a 38th St. Shvesterheim resident.  (See side box.)

What “Thank you!” sounds like

“I would like to say thank you to my wonderful day staffers for helping me in different ways and how to be a mature adult.  I would like to say thank you to Mrs. Kasnett for buying nice clothing for me and the Hamaspik girls.  I would like to also thank Mr. Indig for always having a listening ear and always listening to me.  I would also like to thank Mr. Solomon for always encouraging me to be positive and for always listening to me.  I would like to thank Mrs. Fisher for making yummy foods and also for buying gluten-free foods for me.”

“Have a frayichen Chanukah!”

The event ended with enough upbeat Chanuakh spirit to carry participants straight through the year—or at least until Purim.

Stately service

“Beyond that?”

Asked that question by the Gazette, Hamaspik of Kings County Director of Residential Services Cheskel Fisher smiles.

“What a question!” he replies, reporting that, at the residences under his watch during Chanukah, there “something special every night and every day!”

Indeed, one high moment among many was the main Chanukah banquet at 38th.  On that night, staff hosted a dinner that would have impressed royalty of old.

The table centerpiece consisted of a “menorah” made of eight iridescent blue champagne flutes, and the table itself was set with the home’s finest china and cutlery. 

Mrs. Fisher, 38th’s cook, shortly served up her culinary talents, with each plate soon bearing an appetizer in the shape of a dreidel.  Fast-forward to the end of the regal meal, and dessert was likewise served in bowls shaped… like dreidels.

Staff took particular joy after the meal in enjoying a post-dessert dessert, pastries made by the residents themselves—followed, of course, by a rapturous round of dreidel.

One especially heartfelt Chanukah activity was the annual giving of gifts by residents to their beloved parents.  Every young lady residing at 38th not only prepared presents for their mothers and fathers, but also drew up handwritten and hand-colored personal Chanukah wishes—with each tender note a point of Chanukah light of its own.

Eight causes for celebration

The classic question has been asked for centuries: if the ancient Menorah’s oils candles burned naturally for one day and then supernaturally for seven days, why is Chanukah eight days? Shouldn’t it celebrate just the miracle of seven days?

But at Hamaspik of Orange County’s Acres Briderheim IRA, scholarly manager Mr. Lipa Laufer, himself a former schoolteacher, has his own answer: because Acres has eight residents—and, on each Chanukah night, each one planned and led a party for the others.

At Acres, Mr. Laufer continues, residents live and breathe each holiday in every possible way, and in unbelievably beautiful ways, too.  And at Chanukah, that took the form of the joy and satisfaction the young men felt at seeing their fellow residents enjoying their parties.

Lighting up the nights

At Hamaspik of Kings County’s South 9th Shvesterheim, there was enough light—and not the physical variety—to fill more than the eight days of Chanukah.

From the first night to the last, each holiday evening was marked with a special program of its own at the home.

One night was marked with decorating Chanukah jelly doughnuts with a colorful choice of food colorings, glazes, sprinklings, toppings and the like.  Another night was celebrated with a joint party with sister home 38th St. Shvesterheim.

And a third night’s theme was “light in the darkness,” complete with glow-in-the-dark activities and a night light as a grand prize—perhaps symbolically to carry forth the Chanukah light into the rest of the year.

Professional staff, right at home

At Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Forshay Briderheim IRA, the agency’s first group residence, dedicated staff threw a Chanukah party that was unique in more ways than one. 

Family-heavy and informal in spirit, the feast featured a main course prepared by the IRA’s live-in couple, appetizers brought from home by a second Direct Support Professional (DSP), and an irresistible homemade cheese dish contributed by a third.

But taking that family spirit to a whole new level was the attendance of every DSP along with their wives and children, with the cherubic little kids doted on by the residents as the unofficial little siblings that they have long since become.

With the menfolk occupying the dining room and the womenfolk repairing to the living room, and with a professional keyboardist filling the room with live music, Chanukah was most definitely in the house.  Two residents event took to the mike to sing along!

Residents and staff sang and danced for a good long while, like the one big family that they are.  When that ended, individualized gifts were distributed to each resident—with Manager Mrs. Fischer even seeing to it that each staff member’s children went home with little prizes, too.

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But what was true for Forshay was true for group homes all across Hamaspik—the family spirit, the air of inclusiveness, the notion that not only is disability embraced and mainstreamed, but that, in an ultimate victory for disability dignity, it’s hardly if at all noticed in the first place.

Might we call that a modern-day Chanukah miracle?