Chaya Levinson ('14) with friend/Yachad member

Chaya Levinson (’14) with friend/Yachad member

When people normally talk about the chesed program in a school, students think about the compulsory hours one is required to obtain every year, the amount of hard work it will take to rack up all of those hours or how much free time they will need to give up in order to do community service. At Ida Crown, chesed is different, chesed is not something that students feels forced to do–chesed is one of the programs at school that everyone loves.

Whether it is being a Madrich for Bnei Akiva, visiting residents at a nursing home, volunteering for Chai Lifeline, or in my case, working with Yachad, an organization that strives to provide inclusion for individuals with disabilities, chesed is a program that students love and is integrated into everyone’s lives. More often than not, students collect two to three times the minimum requirement of 80 hours over the course of four years.

For me, the chesed program has been an eye-opening experience that not only enables me to give back to the community, but helps shape me as an individual and leader. As a freshman, I committed to going to my first Yachad Shabbaton understanding this was not any typical Shabbaton. This was a Shabbaton where high school students, along with children and adults with disabilities gathered together for a Shabbat filled with singing, dancing and fun. I think back to my first encounter in the dining hall: picture a room full of tables, people mulling around and talking. And there was me, standing in the middle, not sure what to do. I was just a shy little freshman, I was intimidated and still unsure of myself. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my hand, as I was pulled into the dance circle. The next thing I know I was in the middle of the circle, singing and dancing wildly and joyously with a Yachad member.

I will never forget the words, “Ivdu et Hashem b’simcha,” as they were chanted over and over. This circle was the epitome of what what it means to serve Hashem with joy. This was my first Yachad Shabbaton, and I knew there was no way it was going to be the last. After this first Shabbat, I continued to get more involved with Yachad and still remain involved now as a senior.

The Academy helped train me to be the leader that Yachad needs to help the organization grow within the community. Ida Crown provided me with the role models, lessons and guidance I needed to become who I am today and to achieve success in this case, among many other situations. In my final semester at the Academy, I look back at these past years and recount the friendships I have made within the Academy and in other schools along with the lifelong friendships I have developed with many Yachad members.

I have also gained some great experience. I have been on the Yachad high school board for the past three years, where I have had the opportunity to actualize all of the lessons learned at school and apply them to my work there. Without the Academy, I would not have had this opportunity. I realized I can be a leader and be involved in something that I love. Chessed for me is more than just a requirement, chesed for me is a way of life.