Meshi: Courage, Love and Super Heroes
Some parents just want their children to be average. Ordinary. Others want them to pursue extraordinary goals. But all agree that no other person in the world is exactly like their child and no one else in the world can fulfill their unique purpose. Each child is unequivocally irreplaceable. Precious. One of a kind. And we thank God every day for this gift.
Some children, however, are unintentionally extraordinary. Their severe disabilities—either from congenital neurological disorders or as a result of a debilitating illness or injury—make them a unique type of extraordinary, more irreplaceable and exceptionally precious. Meshi Children’s Rehabilitation Center overcomes seemingly insurmountable challenges, and enables these children to live an ordinary childhood in the most extraordinary way.
Meshi was founded in 1998 by Hadassah Zuravin and her daughter Lifsha Feldman, who refused to accept a neurologist’s dire prognosis for their granddaughter and daughter, Ruchama. Although the infant’s disabilities seemed overwhelming, Hadassah and Lifsha set their sights on creating an unparalleled rehabilitation center for Ruchama and countless other children for whom no other framework existed.
Meshi originally worked in partnership with Jerusalem’s Alyn Hospital until Meshi’s growth compelled the establishment of its own facility, the Donald Berman Meshi Educational and Rehabilitative Center. Soon, families residing outside of Jerusalem began to enroll their children at the Center, and children from across the world joined Meshi’s intensive summer therapy sessions. By 2003, Meshi’s student population had grown in number and age, prompting the opening of the Meshi School, which today serves grades one to seven. Currently enrolled in the program are 210 children ranging in age from six months to 17 years and the Center is one of the very few to serve children under age three in a daycare and nursery school environment.
“Meshi’s mission is to provide comprehensive early intervention for children with neurological, muscle, and nervous system disorders,” says Rav Asher Zuravin, Director of Meshi. “Severely disabled means they are unable to walk, speak or eat.” The unflagging, grassroots efforts of Meshi’s founders, staff and parents have made Meshi Israel’s leading early childhood development center. The personal, one-on-one attention, innovative and pioneering techniques, state-of-the-art equipment and wide range of intensive therapies—including physical, speech and communication, occupational, music, animal-assisted and hydrotherapy— combine to create an unprecedented therapy and educational framework.
Atara Taragin, one of Meshi’s physical therapists, is emotional as she talks about the staff’s excellent credentials and wealth of experience, alongside abundant dedication, encouragement and love for the children and their colleagues. “I don’t know exactly where it came from or how it started, but there is a certain level of love in this place that you don’t see anywhere else. You can see it on the children’s faces. They’re happy, they feel accomplished and they feel good about themselves. They surpass all expectations.”
Children whose parents had been told with grim finality that their child would have zero chance of talking or learning to walk, are taught to master these elementary skills, and much more.
“Each child is unique and has his or her own individual circumstances and needs,” says Dikla Gol, Director of Occupational Therapy at the Meshi Preschool, “Which is why we design a custom-tailored program with a unique therapy mix where the number and type of therapy sessions is determined individually for each child so they can fulfill their full potential.”
Miriam Falk, mother of 9-year-old Elazar, shares her experience at Meshi: “I watch my son who is disabled and living on a respirator, participate independently in activities. Meshi taught him how to communicate using symbols and letters, and within a few months he could spell words and express himself like any other child his age. I used to observe his individualized therapy session and watched in awe as Elazar communicated, read, engaged in educational games, and even checked and responded to email completely independently, by use of a computer that tracks his eye movements. I witness him actively and enthusiastically engage in his classroom discussions—asking questions and suggesting answers—like any other child his age.”
Having a special needs child is demanding both economically and emotionally. Even minimal tuition is a hardship for families. But Meshi will never turn a child away because of insufficient finances and receives broad support for its extensive therapeutic and educational programs both from the Israeli government and generous donors, with limited parental contributions. “The government thinks so highly of the work Meshi does, that it provides us with approximately $5 million of our $7 million budget. They just recently gave us land in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem and agreed to cover close to 70% of the estimated $20 million construction costs for the new campus and building,” says Zuravin. Meshi helps parents identify psychosocial problems through home visits, assists families in applying for government entitlements, and navigate the complex and often overwhelming government bureaucracy.
Driven by their lionhearted souls and extraordinary potential, Meshi remains steadfastly dedicated to giving severely disabled children a chance, with respect and love. A chance for a childhood and a future. A chance to be ordinary. Or to be extraordinary. To be children. To be human. To be the very best that they can be. To be happy. Frankly, that’s what all parents want. And really, it’s more than enough.
For more information and donations, visit their website at www.meshicenter.org/index.php