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Orthodox Union’s Yachad participants with disabilities tour White House

The staff’s warm welcome proved particularly meaningful to Jewish community at this time.

Yachad New York participants at the White House’s Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley. Credit: Courtesy.
Yachad New York participants at the White House’s Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley. Credit: Courtesy.

When it comes to selecting their favorite recreational group activity, Yachad New York participants always choose bowling. Imagine the thrill, when 12 of them were presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bowl at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley on a recent visit to the White House.

Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union, helps individuals with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities participate more fully in the community, via social, recreational, educational, and vocational programs in 10 regions across the United States, Israel and Canada.

Accompanied by eight staff members, 12 Yachad New York participants ages 17 to 37 recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a White House bowling session and tour organized by Yachad’s rabbinic and spiritual advisor, Rabbi Shay Schachter.

“It is always a pleasure spending quality time with Yachad participants,” says Rabbi Schachter, who joined the group onsite. “But nothing in the world can compare to sharing Yachad participants’ joy, smiles and excitement while bowling at the White House! What a memorable day for all of us.”

“We had a nice representation of participants from various Yachad programs,” says Yachad New York director Rebecca Schrag Mayer. “Some attend Yachad’s Ivdu School, some go to Yachad’s day and vocational programs, and all of them had the pleasure of sharing what they did and learned with peers in various programs once they returned.”

Yachad New York runs regular social and recreational programs including weekly activities, Shabbatons and holiday-related events, often in partnership with local synagogues and schools. Schrag Mayer says the White House outing was the most exciting to date, and participants’ delight was palpable.

“Prior to the trip, everyone attended a Zoom training session where we discussed the role and activities of the White House and outlined our expectations including appropriate behavior and attire,” she says. “We told them they could wear nicer clothes, but that they didn’t need to be fancy. Yet so many of our participants showed up wearing suits and ties the day of our trip in honor of the visit!”

Despite the long distance, the bus rides to and from Washington were remarkably enjoyable; people played games, exchanged trivia, watched movies and chatted excitedly.

“Some of the staff who joined us were so surprised to see the excitement of certain participants who tend to be on the quieter side,” says Schrag Mayer. “Our participants generally lead very routine lives; they go to their job sites, day programs or schools and return home to their families or group homes. This trip was a chance for them to go somewhere very special on their own, and it was a very big deal.”

Participants’ families were equally enthusiastic about the trip. In honor of the occasion, Jake Rosenthal’s parents, of Woodmere, N.Y., sponsored “Bowling at the White House 2023” sweatshirts for the entire group that included Yachad’s logo alongside an American flag.

Yachad participants from New York Emma Mandel and Max Dweck at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley. Credit: Courtesy.

Following almost two hours of bowling in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the guests were treated to kosher snacks, the group enjoyed a guided tour of notable rooms and sites.

“I liked the White House staff,” says New Yorker David Orlansky. “They made the extra effort to let me ride the elevator. I really enjoyed the tour and seeing where so many people come to work. I want to write them thank you letters.”

Other trip highlights included photo ops, davening Minchah outside the White House, and box sets of Hershey’s kisses signed by U.S. President Joe Biden, which were given to each participant upon departing.

“We are so appreciative to the White House staff for making this opportunity possible for Yachad,” says Schrag Mayer. “Our staff and participants had an incredibly meaningful, educational, and fun time.”

“The gesture and outreach were particularly profound in light of the situation in Israel,” she adds. “White House staff truly opened their doors and hearts to our community.”

Several Yachad visitors gave White House staff notes of gratitude addressed to the president in recognition of his unequivocal support for Israel.

“Our participants talked a lot about the Biden administration’s support for Israel and asked one another if they had watched his remarks following October 7,” says Schrag Mayer.

Reflecting on the adventure, Ariana Siegel of Valley Stream, N.Y., says “this was the most epic day of my whole life. Going into the White House was an experience that not everyone gets to have!”

New Yorker Andrew Blank agrees: “The day was amazing, amazing, amazing! I can’t believe I got to go to the White House and see so much history.  So many presidents lived there. It was really the best day. Bowling in the president’s bowling alley! I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. It was literally the chance of a lifetime.” 

Chana Bruckman of Brooklyn, N.Y., says she is grateful to the White House staff, Rabbi Schacter and Yachad for facilitating the memorable outing. “I really enjoyed this great experience, and I learned new things, Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity!”

Contact

Rebecca Schrag Mayer

Director, Yachad New York

212-613-8223

schragr@ou.org

About Yachad

Yachad is an international organization that helps individuals with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities participate more fully in their community and society, by providing educational, employment and relationship opportunities. 

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
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