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Spectacular Tishrei Holiday Season Celebrated Across Hamaspik Services and Programs

November 23, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Residences, Supports Bring Individuals into Community Mainstream throughout Month

If not for Sukkos, what would give us joy to carry us through the year?  But with Sukkos filling   our pockets with enough happiness for the next 11 months, there’s enough for every day.

With that in mind, Hamaspik’s divisions, programs, services and supports for individuals with disabilities—a machine comprising hundreds of caring Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) and other staff across five New York counties—painstakingly prepared for Sukkos, and for the entire Tishrei holiday month that Sukkos is part of, well in advance, leaving no stone unturned.

The result?  The sweet taste of Tishrei lingering on the tongue of every individual, young and old alike, supported by Hamaspik, and their grateful parents, siblings and families, too.

It would take ten Gazettes to truly present the extraordinary care and devotion to detail provided present and immediate past by Hamaspik staff.  Nevertheless, presented here are telling anecdotes that capture both the action and the spirt of giver and receiver alike.

Heralding the New Year

You’ve got to hand it to the boys of Grandview—with the approach of Tishrei, the youthful residents of the Hamaspik of Rockland County home spent more than a bit of time cutting, coloring, decorating or otherwise fashioning holiday greeting cards to send home to their parents.

And all by hand.

Each lovely little card centered on an individual’s portrait surround by hand-customized paper frames that each young man had colored and glued on manually.  The arts and crafts activity was the veritable highlight of the holiday month, reports Grandview Manager Joel Schnitzer, getting them involved and excited as it did.

The Seven Springs Shvesterheim IRA, of Hamaspik of Orange County, likewise dispatched a round of lovingly crafted greeting cards from daughters to parents.  Along with the irresistibly cute handmade messages (photos and all), the cards arrived accompanied by dainty chocolates, rendering the total packages the sweetest of greetings.

With the Gazette’s offices located in Monsey as they are, editors maintain personal relationships with a good few residents of the Hamaspik IRAs in the immediate area.  Yiddish Editor Zishe Muller got a most pleasant surprise, when, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, his office phone rang—with a call from Moishe, a resident of the local Forshay Briderheim.

Moishe proceeded to personally wish Mr. Muller a “good and sweet New Year,” as the age-old holiday greeting goes, with all the charm and personality that could only come from the heart.

Whether Forshay or any other group home, Hamaspik’s golden-hearted residential beneficiaries found themselves making calls, or personal visits, before Rosh Hashanah to those who mean the most to them—firstly, of course, to beloved parents and immediate family… and then, perhaps, to an acquaintance or two.

With several Seven Springs residents unable to attend the nearest synagogue on Rosh Hashanah for various reasons, Seven Springs DSP Mr. Zalman Grossberg brought the synagogue’s shofar-blowing home.

With the residents gathered around, Mr. Grossberg not only sounded the sacred tones on the hollowed-out ram’s horn, but was happy to be using one that was brand-new, too—underscoring the holiday’s theme of renewal.

Ditto for the young women residing at Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Fosse Shvesterheim, led since inception by Mrs. Esty Landau, its most capable Manager: those able to “go to shul” attended services at the nearby synagogue led by Rabbi Kokis—while Mrs. Landau arranged for a shofar-blower to visit the residence for those who could not. 

The Bakertown Shvesterheim, Hamaspik of Orange County’s newest Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA) group home and the entire agency’s youngest (so far), supports a group of high-functioning young women—enabling them, as they did, to create the glowing atmosphere of High Holidays in the comfort of their own home.  That atmosphere included new outfits for the holidays and holiday meals with all the customary trimmings: apples and honey, pomegranates, and exotic fruits.

In the run-up to High Holiday services, one resident requested a reserved seat at the largest synagogue in Kiryas Joel, the upstate village that is home to Bakertown, while others asked for—and obtained—annual memberships at a smaller house of worship nearby.

“Moshiach is here!” wrote Mrs. Cziment right after Rosh Hashanah and the exalted moments of prayer services at the nearby Karisterer Synagogue.  “It was a Yom Tov to cover!”

Cook Mrs. Landau had whipped up a storm.  Besides the honey cakes made by residents, the table was covered with “symbolic kugels” of apple, honey, carrots and so on, with pomegranates set out elegantly rivaling the finest private home.

With the advent of Rosh Hashanah, every Hamaspik IRA resident heard the blasts of the shofar—just like everyone else did.

Living the Holidays

At Hamaspik’s group homes, residents don’t just celebrate the holidays.  They live them.

That was certainly the case at Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Grandview Briderheim, which enjoyed the custom of visiting a body of water for the Tashlich prayer.  That prayer, in which one symbolically casts one’s sins into the water, has been drawing Jews to beaches, lakefronts, ponds and the like for centuries come the High Holidays. 

Sharing in the cultural customs of the community around them, then, Grandview’s residents and support staff found themselves on the morning of Monday, October 10—barely a day before Yom Kippur day—before the waters of Haverstraw Bay Lake.

Sharing in the cultural customs of the community around them in yet another way, several residents at Seven Springs insisted on fasting on Yom Kippur just like any typical peer, not to mention as their parents do.  While some could not for medical reasons, all joined in the “break-fast” dinner immediately after Yom Kippur’s conclusion, sharing in the spiritual joy.

Channeling that spiritual “high” into positive, proactive action is the reason behind the common community custom of gearing up for the next holiday—Sukkos—practically as soon as you’re done with Yom Kippur.

That’s why residents and staff across Hamaspik’s group-home universe were seen the night of Wednesday, October 12—mere hours after Yom Kippur’s close—getting their backyard sukkah huts in last-minute shape (most had put them up even before Yom Kippur).

And with Seven Springs being elegantly kept year ‘round, it not surprisingly had a sukkah to match, right down to the curtain-like trimmings lending the shelter a pleasantly permanent feel.

Wall decorations—rich, colorful and vibrant pieces of art of all sorts, and many hand-made by residents—dominated the décor in every Hamaspik group-home sukkah.

Typical of that was the 38th St. Shvesterheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA), Hamaspik of Kings County’s youngest IRA, where the sukkah walls were hung with decorative and evocative posters of natural landscapes, while shiny ceiling decorations in a rainbow of colors hung down from the bamboo roof.

A similar scene presented itself at Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Grandview Briderheim, IRA, where Manager Joel Schnitzer (who also doubles as an agency Medicaid Service Coordinator), the backyard sukkah was a veritable art gallery.

Ditto for Hamaspik of Rockland’s Arcadian Briderheim, where longtime Manager Shlomo Lebowitz and crew saw to it that the Sukkos spirit practically sang from the very walls. Their sukkah, besides the standard décor, was decorated with cutouts of violins and trumpets, giving their outdoor shelter a decidedly upbeat vibe.

And in the sukkah of Hamaspik of Kings County’s 61st St. Briderheim men’s residence, it was quite literally Sukkos time all holiday long—what with a clock in the sukkah, and a working one at that, whose hands consisted of a lulav and esrog.

Getting into Sukkos

The first two days of Sukkos, the collective culmination of a community’s almost-frantic preparation for the festival, were marked with plenty of mealtimes, synagogue attendance and other joyful expressions of family and community bonding.

Not to leave its residents out, Hamaspik’s group-home staff ensured that the people they support felt equally connected—to the Sukkos holiday, and to the communities around them also celebrating the Sukkos holiday.

Come Monday and Tuesday, October 17 and 18, then, the ladies and gentlemen across Hamaspik’s dozen-plus group homes in three counties were seen strolling the streets of their neighborhoods like everyone else—going to or coming from shul, and greeting familiar faces alike, all in the balmy spirit of the holiday only accentuated by the temperate weather.

And in enjoying their festive meals in their outdoor huts, surrounded by the positive color, joy and atmosphere, the individuals were surrounded by Sukkos—both figuratively and literally.

In Concert with the Community

With Sukkos being the prime-time family bonding time that it is—a holiday that families look forward to all year—the Hamaspik group homes, each a family in its own right, was no different.

As such, Hamaspik of Kings County’s 38th St. Shvesterheim IRA took in a massive free community concert the first day of Chol Hamoed, the four “Intermediate Days” occupying the middle of the eight-day Sukkos holiday.

The 61st St. Briderheim, another Hamaspik of Kings County residence, also found itself on Chol Hamoed enjoying another concert—this one headlined by Uncle Moishy, a beloved children’s entertainer, in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood.

Up north in Rockland County, the Fosse Shvesterheim IRA, also a women’s residence, likewise enjoyed a local community event—this one an interactive and educational audio/video presentation—on Chol Hamoed.  They also enjoyed a more private “family outing,” this in the form of a lunch in the sukkah of a Monsey kosher restaurant.

Also under the purview of Hamaspik of Rockland, the Grandview Briderheim IRA boys residence, in keeping with individual person-centeredness, took one resident to the Queens Zoo on one Chol Hamoed day, while the entire gang took in the Grand Prix family fun center across the Hudson River in Westchester another day.

And, of course, every Hamaspik group home—and most beneficiaries of its Family Care, Community Habilitation (Comm Hab), After-school Respite (ASR) and other programs—enjoyed Hamaspik’s gala Chol Hamoed community concert (see side story, page [??]).

Coming Full Circle

Come the last day of Sukkos, a holiday in its own right known as Shmini Atzeres, residential beneficiaries of Hamaspik came full circle in terms of community integration.

Joining community members as they did in the ceremonial dancing with the Torah scrolls at their local shuls on Shmini Atzeres (and the Simcha Torah holiday the following day), everyone felt they belonged.

At the Grandview Briderheim, for example, residents enjoyed the Hakafos (literally, “circuits”) as they danced in the traditional circle around the synagogue floor, with disability hardly even an afterthought and regulars embracing them as the members of the community that they are. 

But getting them to shul in the first place was the group home’s team of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), notes Manager Joel Schnitzer, which “put so much effort into making Simchas Torah a success,” he says.

And not too far away, at Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Arcadian Briderheim, not only did DSP staff support residents in going to shul, but members of Congregation Shaar Hashamayim, the nearest local shul—in a remarkable display of love and unity—personally came over to the group home to accompany the young men as their DSPs brought them to shul on Simchas Torah.

At Tishrei Tunnel End, a Chanukah Light

So what was special at 61st this Tishrei?  Says DSP Shea Teichman: “It’s always special!”

But what was true for 61st was true for all of Hamaspik: even though the winter seems to have come in earlier this year, the community warmed itself up against the winds, both meteorological and political, with the warm Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur prayers, the exuberant Hakafos and the lively dancing on Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. 

It now looks forward to the next boost: the glorious days of Chanukah.

Speaking of which, Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Fosse Shvesterheim—which will be marking its 13th successful anniversary this coming January—was all lit up with pride this October… in the successful aftermath of yet another audit by the New York State OPWDD, the state agency overseeing group homes like those run by Hamaspik. 

The audit, a new point-driven checklist being now being implemented by the state and deployed for the first time at Fosse, left auditors “beyond impressed,” reports Manager Mrs. Landau.  “She had tears in her eyes talking about how staff interacts with residents—she couldn’t get enough of it.”

With the new type of audit very emphatic on individuals’ person-centered choices, notes the Manager, the auditors were particularly impressed with a “debate” over a Chol Hamoed daytime meal held forth between residents themselves while staff and visitors looked respectfully on.  “Some wanted to order out.  Some wanted to eat in,” says Mrs. Landau.  Both were accommodated.  “It was amazing!”

And with a successful, and audit-enhanced, Tishrei behind it, Mrs. Landau adds, the Fosse Shvesterheim is now planning for the Festival of Lights—the next holiday on the Jewish calendar, and the next major opportunity for individuals and their community to connect.



[Sider bar #1]

Esteem makeover, Hamaspik edition

Joining Hamaspik group homes across three counties this Tishrei holiday season in shopping for the season was the Grandview Briderheim IRA, one of several agency residences serving the Rockland County population.  Manager Joel Schnitzer, hardworking and devoted like all other Hamaspik group-home managers, saw to it that his young charges picked out their own brand-new suits, shirts, socks and shoes come Rosh Hashanah—ensuring that when it comes to feeling good about what you’re feeling because you’re feeling good about what you’re wearing, the budding gentlemen that he supports are quite literally covered head to toe. [APPROVED BY M. SABEL 10/6/16]

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Putting Rosh Hashanah on the table

Concord Briderheim IRA Manager Mrs. Shaindel Goldberger, never one to skimp on the quality and attention to detail that is her brand of down-home, hands-on residential support, put it all out there on the table when Rosh Hashanah rolled around.  Judging from the photos sent in the Sunday of the Jewish New Year’s eve, the dining-room centerpiece at Concord, set early in the holiday’s honor, could easily grace the pages of any elegant catalog or department-store window display—which is exactly how Mrs. Goldberger and her “boys” like it. [APPROVED BY M. SABEL 10/6/16]

Ditto for Hamaspik of Kings County’s South 9th Shvesterheim, whose career Manager Mrs. Malkie Cziment likewise saw to it that South 9th’s pre-Rosh Hashanah table was properly bedecked with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance—right down to the symbolic pomegranate seeds on appetizer plates and the carrot-based pastries smack in the middle. [APPROVED BY C. FISHER 10/6/16; APPROVED BY J. FREUND 10/7/16]

But not missing any of the action downstate was Hamaspik of Kings County’s 38th St. Shvesterheim, the agency’s youngest group home wherein a group of happy young ladies of all function levels resides.  The residents whipped up lovely homemade challah loaves in honor of Rosh Hashanah, not for their own tables but for those of their parents.  Creatively created with “built-in” honey tins in each challah’s center, the traditional baked goods were adorably wrapped in cellophane and completed with affixed New Year’s messages from daughters to mothers and fathers rolled up in elegant scrolls. [APPROVED BY C. FISHER 10/6/16] [APPROVED BY J. FREUND 10/7/16]

 [Side bar #3] [Approved by J. Weiser 11/16/16]

“Kedushas Yom Tov” at the Acres Briderheim—a mutual bond

The simple translation of “Kedushas Yom Tov” is “Holiday Holiness.”

But at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, not only does Hamaspik of Orange County’s Acres Briderheim IRA bask in the atmosphere of holiday holiness, but the nearby Kedushas Yom Tov Synagogue basks in the atmosphere of the Acres Briderheim, too.

The two community institutions share an inseparable bond.

Acres’ Manager Rabbi Lipa Laufer, better described as the father of the family, is also a regular cantor at Kedushas Yom Tov.  He’s been lending his hearty baritone to services there for years. 

Locals attend Kedushas Yom Tov not just for Rabbi Laufer’s notable and inspiring voice, but also for the atmosphere of spiritual purity created by when Acres is present.

When Rabbi Laufer’s boys are seated in shul, the prayers have that added innocence.

Mrs. Laufer recalls how, one year at Rosh Hashanah, they weren’t sure if one young man should go to shul, as he regularly presented no signs of understanding where he was or what was happening.  He would likely have difficulty tolerating the stretches of silently recited prayers.

However, Kedushas Yom Tov’s regulars would have none of that—and the young man’s tender innocence, weeping openly at the blasts of the shofar, touched the hearts of all around him.

The gentleman evinced the same spiritual innocence throughout the day’s services, with his pure soul shining for all to experience—without him uttering a word.

This year, on Rosh Hashanah’s first day at Kedushas Yom Tov, another resident served as an informal accompanist of sorts to Rabbi Laufer. 

Later back at home, he was asked by Mrs. Laufer why his background vocals were particularly pronounced.  The young man simply replied, “What do you mean?  I had to help out!”

At the end of the day, Acres’ residents are beloved Kedushas Yom Tov mainstays—where each enjoys his regular seat, name plate and all, and participates in services to their individual ability.