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Giving to the Care Givers: Inspiring Family Care Provider Retreat Hosted by NYSHA

 

Even the most superhuman parents need the occasional break.

 

Providing them with that break—and then some—was the idea behind the spectacularly successful recent Shabbos Retreat for Family Care providers hosted by the New York State Hamaspik Association (NYSHA), Hamaspik’s parent organization and agency support body.

 

With approximately 150 individuals supported throughout the Hudson Valley and New York metro region, the longtime Family Care program sponsored by NYSHA member agencies is the largest of its kind in the state.

 

For over two decades now, Hamaspik’s Family Care providers have been ordinary parents making the extraordinary commitment to take in children with intellectual or other disabilities.

 

Under the auspices of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), Hamaspik Family Care providers have opened their homes and hearts.

 

But even the hardiest heart needs to rest and recharge from time to time—and from 1:00 p.m. Nov. 3 through Nov. 5 noon, Family Care parents recharged like on no other Shabbos weekend.

 

“This past week, every provider I visited couldn’t stop raving and thanking Hamaspik for the outstanding Shabbos they just had!” reports Hamaspik of Rockland County Family Care Nurse Mrs. Lolly Hutman, R.N.

 

Indeed, says the veteran nurse, one such guest summed it up for all of them: “This Shabbos gave us chizuk [inspiration—ed.] to go on.”

 

Relaxation and reinvigoration

Tastefully blending spiritual and recreational into one seamless continuum, the retreat was replete with relaxation and reinvigoration.

 

Guests checking in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Friday afternoon were instantly transported to another world—a universe that for the next 48 hours was free of any angst or pressure.

 

A buffet was on hand to give arrivals a taste of the weekend to come, followed shortly by a jewelry-making workshop and even appointment-only private massage sessions.

 

Both were perfectly therapeutic for the devoted mothers taking that rare weekend away from their precious bundles—giving themselves some much-need self-care.

 

But it only got better from there.

 

By the time guests were in their Shabbos finery and candles lit at 5:29 p.m., the hotel’s main lobby wasn’t the only thing daubed with a special glow.

 

With the restful Sabbath atmosphere now filling the air, retreat chairman Rabbi Hershel Friedman introduced the retreat’s first featured speaker, Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Meisels.

 

Rabbi Meisels, a world-renowned speaker in the Chasidic world, formally opened the weekend with a few well-chosen words of inspiration.

 

More inspiration for hardworking Family Care mothers followed with a 6:15 p.m. “seminar” speech by Mrs. Rivkah Feferkorn, a popular inspirational speaker. 

 

Both sessions left listeners uplifted, their supportive messages internalized.

 

At 7:30 p.m., husbands and wives sat down on either side of the customary mechitza partition for a regal Friday-night Shabbos dinner with all the trimmings.

 

Mealtimes are perhaps the best example of other-centered service and care, many parents of kids with disabilities will tell you—what with picky preferences and limited diets often the norm.

 

For Hamaspik’s guests, then, it was all the more a feast of relief to be quite literally catered to—for once not doing the catering to. 

 

Wine, challah, fish, salad, soup, poultry and dessert, all prepared and served to perfection, were laid out before the Family Care providers, making them feel like the royalty that they are.

 

Presiding over a feast fit for kings was the first of several guests, Rabbi Yechezkel Weiss, a noted community teen educator and academic authority, shared a rousing message.

 

Further words of inspiration were later heard at two informal post-dinner events.  Menfolk assembled in the hotel’s outdoor gazebo for a free-flowing farbrengenexchange with personality Yosef Chaim Rotensteich, who had the gentlemen laughing throughout with his wisdom-laced witticisms.

 

The womenfolk simultaneously and separately took in a delightful and inspirational Oneg Shabbos session in the International East ballroom, led by Mrs. Devora Kuperman.

 

Guests went to bed brimming with food for body and mind, heart and soul alike.

 

An uplifting day

From beginning to end, Shabbos day was filled with inspiration and reinvigoration.

 

Morning tea and coffee was followed with uplifting Shachris and Musaf prayer services led by Cantor Chaim Dov Ungar and accompanying choir.

 

A major retreat highlight came next, with the mothers and fathers separately gathering for heartfelt and honest discussions over “Kiddush” refreshments on all things special-needs parenting.

 

Those candid group conversations have long been a staple of Hamaspik Shabbos retreats—indeed, their most popular draw for many guests.

 

Guests Israel Fuchs and Levi Appel shared what was in their hearts with their fellow fathers, while Mrs. Fuchs and Mrs. Appel did the same for their soul sisters.

 

Both groups spent a good amount of time together sharing the collective heartbreak and hope of caring for children with intellectual or developmental disability—identifying with one another, laughing together and yes, even crying together. 

 

All came away with a year’s worth of wisdom and wit.

 

And as if that wasn’t enough, guests shortly reconvened in the dining room for lunch—during which special guest Rabbi Yechiel Michel Feferkorn, regaled them with a soaring message of faith

 

Guests then had a full afternoon to rest, relax and otherwise digest everything they’d taken in so far.

 

The sky’s the limit

Another Oneg Shabbos for the womenfolk was held, this one towards evening.

 

After the 5:30 p.m. Mincha prayers, the crowd gathered for a wonderful “Shalosh Seudos” third Shabbos meal—at which Rabbi Meisels spoke again, and well after Shabbos ended.

 

Rabbi Meisels’ message was not lost on the crowd, with its climactic words uplifting enough to repeatedly bring the crowd to its feet.

 

But as a high a note as Shabbos ended on, it still only went higher from there.  Following the 7:15 p.m. Havdalah Shabbos-closing ceremony with Rabbi Meisels, a live band took the stage in the hotel’s airy indoor courtyard.

 

Any guests not already in the clouds were quickly rocketed sky-high by the electrifying music, the men joining hands and hearts to dance with abandon for the joy of a life’s mission renewed.

 

At the same time, over the traditional Melaveh Malka post-Shabbos meal, womenfolk enjoyed an equally therapeutic seminar on chiropractic and general health.  The session was presided over by chiropractor Dr. Howard I. Werfel.  Additional presentations were made by Rabbi Aaron Eisenberg and Mr. Rotensteich.

 

A refreshing low-key contrast was simultaneously led by artist Hitzel, who put on an interactive and most hands-on painting workshop for artistically-inclined guests.

 

By the time guests retired for the night, some in the wee hours of the morning, the Sabbath “Day of Rest” had taken on an entirely new meaning.

 

Bringing change home

The Shachris morning services began at 8:30 a.m.  Breakfast was served from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to accommodate late risers.  Checkout commenced at noon, followed by buses back home.

 

But the people boarding those buses were not the same who had boarded 48 hours earlier.

 

One such guest, a Family Care father, was attending his first Hamaspik retreat.  The gentleman and his wife have been providing Family Care for well over a decade-and-a-half—lending them a good bit of authority on the field.

 

But the game-changing inspiration and message of the retreat changed everything. Said he: “After 16 years, only now am I becoming a Family Care provider.”