Defending ALEH: Our Bridge to a More Fulfilling Life
On Israel Independence Day, I was appalled to read an op-ed in The Algemeiner that was so deceptive and erroneous that it ruined my holiday.
Entitled “Institutionalization: Why Does Israel Continue to Be Infatuated With This Cruel and Archaic Approach?,” the piece frames ALEH, an Israeli network of warm and welcoming homes for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, as a source of harm and malice.
Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As a parent who benefits from ALEH’s unique brand of care and compassion on a daily basis, I cannot and will not allow these claims to spread unchecked.
Throughout the article, the author paints a picture of horror-movie-style institutions. I was pained by the dishonesty. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would disseminate such blatant falsehoods about angels among men.
It made me think of the famous sermon by English minister William Lonsdale Watkinson: “Denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet, is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.”
ALEH has been a bright light in our lives. Though my son is very sweet and aware, he is autistic and mute. A few years ago, we realized that we simply couldn’t provide him with the dedicated care that he needed and deserved at home. After nearly a year of searching for a solution, we chose ALEH. We love him very much and miss him every day, but we know that we made the right choice. We know that we found partners who are as concerned about our son’s growth, development and quality of life as we are.
It should be understood that parents don’t surrender their children with a clear conscience. It is always with a heavy heart, and the struggle is constant. But those of us who find help outside of our homes do so for a reason (or several reasons). Negative and accusatory articles such as the venomous op-ed published in these pages only stoke fear and prey on a parents’ guilt. They inflict much harm, while serving no real purpose.
One passage from the article that stood out was the author’s lamentable anecdote about a girl’s injuries, which were obliquely blamed on the working staff without providing specifics. Aside from the fact that most injuries could happen anywhere, my understanding is that overcrowding and lack of resources is almost always the culprit when accidents occur. Advocates for alternative services, like the author, would do better fighting for funding rather than ridiculing extant and struggling organizations that have sacrificed so much and fought so hard for our children.
Statements about the ideal, like “Let them live with their biological parents” and “Let them stay in a community setting,” just roll off the tongue. But can you imagine a situation where a child never sleeps, is unable to stay in school, constantly wets his pants, can’t speak, refuses to eat, can’t undergo dental treatment and requires constant care from two adults day after day, year after year? I can, because I have lived it. And I can no longer imagine a life without ALEH.
Though I was skeptical (even fearful) at first, I can honestly say that my overall impressions of ALEH have been incredibly positive.
This home away from home includes a beautiful living space, a school, virtually limitless activity resources, a committed staff and competent administrators who are always on call. I have seen the administrators and staff operate on a day-to-day basis under varying circumstances and extreme pressure, and I am truly impressed with their poise and professionalism.
Most importantly, ALEH never makes parents feel like outsiders. We are always included in decisions, always told the truth about anything that happens and always welcome.
For my family, and especially for my son, ALEH has literally been a life-saver and a bridge to a more fulfilling life. My son is much calmer and more focused. The discipline and steady routine has helped him tremendously, and being around children his own age has helped him learn to interact (at his own level) and fend for himself in some respects.
So, is ALEH an “institution” as the op-ed’s author pejoratively declares? Are children at ALEH in danger? Most certainly not. If there was even one act of carelessness or cruelty that I was aware of, my son would not be there. As I see it, castigating a dedicated and successful organization by calling it “archaic and cruel” is at best reckless, and at worst intentionally dishonest. I’m still not sure why the author chose to attack one of the few viable entities in Israel simply because it falls short of her idealized conception. But I would be happy to have a real discussion with her.