December 13, 2018

Orthodox Parents Create Special-Needs Camp


When the Los Angeles Unified School District broke for the recent winter vacation, a group of nine 10-year-old boys gathered in the Jewish Educational Movement in Beverly Hills for a mid-winter camp called, Kol Hanearim (“all the children”). The public school students were primarily from observant homes, and all have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Marcia Lichtig and Rivky Raichik, two mothers who were frustrated at both the lack of educational infrastructure in the Los Angeles Jewish community for children with special needs, and that their ADD/ADHD children spent most of their lives in a non-Jewish environment, organized the camp. They raised $8,000 and brought in four counselors from the East Coast who were trained in mainstreaming special-needs children into Jewish schools — a system developed by Rabbi Yitzi Goldberg (one of the counselors) of KAHAL in Far Rockaway, N.Y.

“We want our kids to be Orthodox and have an Orthodox chevra (group of friends),” said Lichtig, whose son, Seth, has ADHD and currently attends the Julianne Singer School. “I have no idea where Seth will go to high school. I don’t want to put him in a [public] school because I am afraid he will become irreligious and that would destroy our family life.”

The camp had the usual array of activities — baseball, arts and crafts projects like making tzitzit, and discussion groups — as well as a competition system where the boys can accumulate points and receive rewards for good behavior. But the behavior that was point-worthy might have gone unnoticed at any other camp. If someone knocked on the door and interrupted the group, and the boys didn’t get distracted, they received 10 points for “good ignoring.” If a boy hit the ball and ran to first base during a baseball game, he received 10 points for “good compliance.” If a boy answered a question his counselor asked, and thus contributed to the group discussion, he received 10 points for “good contributing.” And, at the end of the day, it wasn’t the boy with the most points who won the prize, but any boy who received more points than he had accumulated the day before.

“[Our philosophy] is based on the fact that ADD and ADHD children are impulsive, they don’t have a good memory, and they don’t really recognize the behavior that they are doing,” said Jonathan Feintuch, one of the counselors at the camp, who is pursuing a master’s in social work at Yeshiva University. “We hold a mirror up to them [so to speak] and express what they are doing, and that helps them to recognize their behaviors. They end up learning what behaviors are positive and what behaviors are negative.”

Now Raichik and Lichtig are trying to raise $250,000 for a permanent program in one of the Los Angeles day schools based on those principles.

“It’s time for Los Angeles to do something,” said Raichik’s husband, Rabbi Yankee, whose son, Mendel, is also in the Julianne Singer School. “This is not a small town anymore, and I want my child to be in a Jewish environment.”

For more information on the program, call Rivky Raichik at (323) 447-7450.