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November 20, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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November 20, 2009

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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, NOVEMBER 20, 2009 Everyone wins with a gift annuity rate as high as 9.5% from ORT America. With certificates of deposit and money market accounts averaging low rates of return, an ORT America charitable gift annuity may help you achieve your personal and financial goals as you give life-improving educational opportunities to needy students. Call ORT America today to create a charitable gift annuity and lock in attractive rates that will secure a lifetime of favorable fixed payments for you and your loved ones. Depending on your age at the time the gift annuity is established, you can receive as much as 9,5/o annually, while ensuring ORT Ame rica continues its mission of helping people become self-sufficient. For our free booklet Create a Legacy of Learning or to receive a complimentary sample illustration showing how a gift annuity to ORT America may benefit you, please contact Leah Siskin, 0RT America Advancement Director, Florida Region, at 888.802.6088 or AMERICA ORT America charitable gift annuity rates are those currently recommended by the American Council on Gift Annuities as of February 1 9009. Bruce Sharon Staff and participants on a Birthright Israel trip for people with Asperger's syndrome socializing at Jerusalem's Beit Ekstein. By Gil Sheller NEW YORK (JTA) Pa- mela Saeks thought her daughter Karly, who has As- perger's syndrome, would never be able to go on Birth- right Israel, the program that offers Diaspora Jews free trips to Israel "For years she has been so frustrated that she can't be like other kids and go on an organized trip to Israel." Saeks said. But in December, Karly will embark on a 10-day Birthright trip tailored for individuals with Asperger's, a form of high-functioning autism. The trip will take her from the shores of the Dead Sea to the verdant pla- teau of the Golan Heights. The trip is organized in partnership with Sho- rashim, an organization aimed at strengthening ties between the DiaspOra and Israel, and Koach,-the col- lege outreach group of the Conservative movement. It will be the fourth Birthright trip suited to meet the needs of people with Asperger's. The Asperger's trip is one of a number of spe- cially tailored Birthright programs for those with disabilities. Birthright. which has brought some 220,000 Jews aged 18 to 26 to Israel since its inception in 2000, also runs trips for the hearing impaired, the developmentally disabled and wheelchair users, and has had one trip for blind participants. By the end of 2009. at least 28 groups of people with special needs will have traveled to Israel on Birth- right since 2003. according to Birthright. The Birthright trips for the disabled visit all the major sites of a typical Birthright trip, but changes are made to suit the partici- pants' unique needs. At Masada. they do not as- cend to the ancient citadel via the rigorous serpentine trail. Instead. they tour the Roman ramparts at the bot- tom of the hill and take the cable car to the top. At Yad Vashem, the Ho- locaust museum in Jerusa- lem. organizers highlight the persecution by the Nazis of people with dis- abilities. And Asperger's trips hold discussions about the Nazis' persecution of Eastern European Jewry in classrooms next to the mu- seum to provide abetter en- vironment for participants to absorb the information. Despite their popularity, the frequency of Birthright trips for the disabled is limited due to budgetary constraints. "It's an expensive trip to run, and we can't do it again," Hillel's director of immersion, Andrea Hoff- man, said of a trip for the mobile impaired. "People have asked us if we could get private funding and we have a lot of requests." The costs of the trips for the disabled are higher for several reasons. Each group has a higher staff- to-participant ratio one to three on the Asperger's trip, for example, compared with one to 20 for regular Birthright trips. In addition, some groups need specific and some- times expensive facilities. Mobile-impaired groups need special buses that can accommodate more than 20 people in wheelchairs, and organizers have to scout every destination to make sure they are wheelchair access ible. Laura Siegel, who went on a trip for the hearing impaired two summers ago, said the experience was transformative. "I feel that this trip would leave a long-lasting impres- sion for every deaf Jewish young adult out there in the United States. as it did for me." Siegel wrote JTA in an e-mail. "We started out as strang- ers and ended up almost feeling like a family, and all it took was 10 days up close and personal sharing this amazing journey." Lior Baruch, an Israeli special-needs teacher who has escorted three Asperg- er's trips and will take part in the one in December, said one moment during his last trip sticks out in his mind. "A few hours after the group landed in Israel. they stood on the Armon Hanatziv promenade over- looking this view of Jerusa- lem." Baruch recalled. "You could see the excitement in their eyes. Some took nonstop pictures. Others called their parents. It was a touching moment." Rabbi Elsye Winick, as- sociate director of Koach and one of the organizers of the Asperger's trip, said that one of the most power- ful moments on past trips came when her group met Israelis with Asperlger's. "It was an eye-opening experience," Winick said. "It was an experience to realize that on the other side of the world there were people just like them." Jeffery Odols. who is deaf and took part in a Birth- right trip for the hearing impaired, raves about the experience. He said it in- cluded many memorable moments such as visiting the Bedouin in the Negev Desert and savoring the "wonderful shwarma and falafel.'" But the 22-year-old from Rochester. N.Y.. said the trip's highlight was the friendships he forged with other deaf and hearing- impaired participants. "We learned so much from each other our back- grounds, our struggles, our identities and our aspirations," Odols wrote. "It was interesting observ- Ing personalities blend in together." After returning from the trip, Odols was inspired to enroll in a course in Middle Eastern studies. He said he hopes one day to help Israel improve its ties with its neighbors. "Going on the Birthright trip actually opened my eyes." he said. 1 ] ]