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Hamaspik Symbol of Inclusion Burns Brightly at Annual Lag B’Omer Bonfire Event

Day Hab, Senior Dining, EI Programs Enjoy Live Band, Magician at Agency Festival

May 20, '15

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

“What I see is a symbol come to life,” wrote the Hamaspik staffer.

The agency employee was one of the dozens on hand on Thursday, May 7 enjoying the bonfire marking the Lag B’Omer holiday at Hamaspik of Orange County.

That festive gathering, which saw individuals from all three Hamaspik divisions—Kings, Orange and Rockland—meet for an afternoon of fun, was also seen by attending staff as something far bigger than the sum of its parts.

Lag B’Omer, marking the passing of Rabbi Shimon, culminates each year with a grand bonfire lit at a shrine in Meron, the Talmudic sage’s burial place.  Close to a quarter-million converge on the sacred site each year.

“I’m standing in the center of what feels like Meron and my heart is ablaze,” wrote the Hamaspik employee in an internal memo to agency leadership.  “Not due to the scorching sun, but due to the sight that blinds my eyes.”

“There is a symbolic bonfire burning in the center,” she elaborated.

“People from all walks of life are joyously holding hands.  Physical limitations dissipate with music and dance, bridging the gaps of all the differences between each individual.”

In no small coincidence, the logo for Hamaspik from the get-go has been a fire-topped mountain surrounded by identical human figures—a reference to the tradition that at Mt. Sinai, at the fiery Giving of the Torah, all present were miraculously healed of all disabilities, rendering all equal.

To the Hamaspik staffer, the agency Lag B’Omer event brought that image to life—“an image of a fire with people surrounding it.  A symbol of unity and joy,” she wrote.  “A symbol of love and compassion.  The symbol of Hamaspik.”

Epitomizing that inclusive spirit was the presence of the young men and women with disabilities attending the Day Habilitation (Day Hab) programs in Brooklyn, Monsey and Kiryas Joel (KJ)—along with the precious tiny tots of Kinderland, the classroom-based Early Intervention (EI) program run out of Hamaspik of Orange County’s mammoth Admin/Day Hab Building in KJ.

Also in attendance at the spacious rear parking lot of 1 Hamaspik Way were the young-at-heart community seniors regularly benefiting from Hamaspik of Orange County’s relatively new Shnois Chaim (“Living Years”) program.

That initiative, Hamaspik’s take on (and partnership with) the Orange County Dept. of Social Services’ Congregate Dining Service, has dozens of local seniors meet several times a week in the building’s ample ground-floor social hall for socializing over fresh hot meals coupled with exercise and educational programming.

“On behalf of Shnois Chaim, I’d like to express our sincere appreciation for the beautiful mamed hadlukeh [bonfire event—ed.],” wrote Shnois Chaim director Mrs. Chaye Miriam Landau, noting that their tears of joy and their evident happiness were “indescribable.”

“The event sparked their nostalgia,” wrote Mrs. Landau, “giving them an opportunity they haven’t had in years.”  Mrs. Landau also thanked organizers for providing the venerable seniors with respectable and comfortable designated seating.

In a later letter to Hamaspik, one Shnois Chaim participant wrote, “I didn’t see this in ages.  It brings me back to my [young] adulthood days.  I really appreciate what Hamaspik does for us, especially Mrs. Landau.  Thank you!”

Besides the individuals with disabilities of all ages, and their dozens of caregivers, a full squad of volunteer firefighters from the Kiryas Joel Fire Department, and their truck, was on hand for a full modicum of fire safety.  A Hatzolah community EMS ambulance was also at the ready.

Fortunately, neither was needed.  The event, which had been organized primarily by Hamaspik of Orange County’s very own Joel Schnitzer, Special Affairs Coordinator, kicked off at about 12:30 p.m. with the honorary kindling of the bonfire given to Hamaspik founder and Rockland County division Executive Director Meyer Wertheimer.

With the flames quickly leaping up the olive oil-soaked giant cotton wick, a group of professional musicians on hand struck up the band, boosting the air of excitement.

Responding positively and exuberantly to the live music, the dozens of men with disabilities and their staffers joined hands to form a huge dancing circle around the fire.

By 1:30 p.m., the flames had died down—but the excitement was only beginning.

The crowd remained in the gloriously sunny outdoors under shadow of the Admin/Day Hab Building, as an amusing and entertaining magic show unfolded.

The magician regaled young and old alike with his delightful and baffling feats of illusion, calling up volunteer after volunteer to cast upon each, and the entire crowd, a spell of wonder.

Plenty of fresh healthy food and snacks was also available.

With the event concluding in early afternoon, attendees went home tire but elated.  “The happiness and sheer joy expressed by our girls are priceless,” concluded the aforementioned staff member, underscoring the event’s big picture. “And for the opportunity to witness that, I am grateful.”