After the Shabbat
After the ShabbatYeshivat Hesder Sderot

This past Friday night the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service at the Max and Ruth Schwartz Yeshivat Hesder in Sderot, was as raucous as ever. In the midst of all the singing and dancing to welcome the Shabbat queen, a group of young guests took part in prayers and the activities.

Six children between the ages of seven and seventeen with cognitive developmental disorders including autism, CP, and various other disabilities, who arrived from towns all over southern Israel, were whooping it up alongside the Hesder students.

Not only did the children take part in the Friday night services, but they spent the entire Shabbat at the Hesder without their parents, eating meals, participating in special fun activities, playing in a nearby park, visiting a local petting zoo and more.

The children arrived as part of the “Nofshon” initiative, a program throughout Israel, backed by the Ministry of Welfare, which provides children with special needs with amazing weekend experiences outside of their homes for their benefit, while also providing parents the opportunity to focus their attention on their other children at home.

Sderot Nofshon was launched at the end of 2021, in conjunction with the Hesder, and the Shabbat programming takes place once a month. Hesder students serve as volunteers, with each child assigned two students to supervise them and ensure their well-being over the course of the weekend.

The Sderot Nofshon program was made possible thanks to the generosity of Ra’anana residents Shmuel and Hadarya Listenberg in memory of their mother Tzila.

Yinon Cohen is a fifth year Hesder student and serves as the program’s director of volunteers and logistical director for the Shabbat programming. Cohen served as an IDF commander in the Kfar infantry Brigade.

Cohen, whose family lives in the central Israel town of Elad, said that the program is a “win win” for both children with special needs and their parents. “Sderot Nofshon provides a social environment where these kids have the opportunity to spend time over Shabbat with other children. At the same time, the parents can rest easy knowing where their kids are, and that they are in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Cohen said that in addition to taking the children to the petting zoo – located within Sderot’s brand new resilience center, or visiting the park, there are games and puzzles set up at the Hesder in an inviting room with big bean bag chairs and pillows, which is arranged specifically for the children’s activities.

Cohen said he got involved with the program and the recruiting of the other Hesder volunteers because “It is our responsibility to take care of the community.” Cohen is now busy putting the final touches on a four day summer camp next month for children with disabilities.

Sderot’s Nofshon program was launched and is overseen by project manager Batya Dadon, a resident of Merhav Av in southern Israel. Dadon has more than 15 years of experience working in the field of special education throughout the country.

She worked tirelessly with the Ministry of Welfare in getting the program in Sderot off the ground, and is in charge of Nofshon Sderot’s curriculum. She also launched other Nofshon initiatives in several other Israeli communities.

Dadon explained Nofshon’s importance both for parents and the children themselves. “These kids are living at home and need nearly 100% of their parent’s attention, and Shabbat can be the most difficult, when all of the other kids in the home are around.”

She added, “Nofshon provides a fun weekend for the children, along with attention and care, while families can get a breather and devote attention to their other children, so everyone benefits.”

“R.H.” (name withheld upon request) is a mother whose ten year old son “A” has attended several Nofshon weekends at the Hesder. She said “At first it was difficult for my husband and me to consider sending him to the program on his own. But we live in Sderot and rationalized that if for any reason he needs us over the course of Shabbat, we are close by.”

R.H. was amazed that not only did they not have to go and pick him up, but their son had such an amazing time, he was already looking forward to the next scheduled Shabbat. “He loved it. Now he is so excited for it, and can hardly wait for the next one,” she said.

She added “We are so grateful for Nofshon and for the volunteers. It is such an important program.”

Rabbi Ari Katz, the Director of Public Relations at the Hesder in Sderot said “The Yeshiva epitomizes the volunteering spirit within the community. Part of our mission statement is Torah with Derech Eretz!”

Katz added “The Nofshon program is yet another way for the Hesder to demonstrate our love and caring for all members of the Nation of Israel. We love to see these amazing children in our building, and hope to expand this program even further in the near future.”