Three young adults from New Jersey gained valuable experience helping severely disabled Israelis while furthering their own career goals.
The three, Emily Blum of Manalapan, Jess Rudin of Kendall Park, and Etan Tammam of Morris Plains, all volunteered for seven weeks this summer at ALEH Negev, a village for children and adults with severe physical and cognitive disabilities.
The trio helped with daily activities and therapies while receiving training in occupational and physical therapy at the cutting-edge facility, located in the South near Ofakim and Merchavim.
The program ended July 23.
They applied via the Onward Israel Negev Internship, for young adults 19-26 years old. The program partnered with Israel Experts, which connects ALEH Negev with universities across the United States to provide what ALEH calls “expertise with meaning.”
Rudin and Blum are both going into their senior year at Towson University in Maryland.
Rudin, an occupational therapy major who will turn 21 on Aug. 12, is in a combined bachelor’s/master’s program and has two more years of school. Blum, 21, is a health sciences major interested in doing occupational therapy after college.
“I knew about this program and said to Emily, ‘Apply, apply,’ and she was assigned the same place,” said Rudin. “It’s funny how that worked.”
Tammam, 25, a 2012 Penn State University graduate who studied kinesiology, is employed by Pro Physical Therapy in Randolph. After accumulating enough prerequisite hours, he said, he plans to return to Israel to attend physical therapy school.
All three said they gained valuable hands-on experience in Israel that would not have been possible under more restrictive American rules.
“The biggest difference is in New Jersey as an aide you are not allowed to be hands-on,” said Tammam. “At ALEH Negev you were doing passive range of motion the first day one-on-one with patients. For me it was different because I had never worked with severely physically and mentally handicapped patients. I’m used to working at an orthopedic facility.”
Rudin said working with American patients would now seem strange. “There are so many rules in America you are afraid to touch a patient,“ said Rudin.
A part of society
Blum is mulling over whether to enter a master’s program or become an OT assistant.
“I figured doing this internship would help me decide,” she said. “It definitely made me more passionate about occupational therapy. I didn’t do as much occupational therapy there as I would have liked, but I really did do a lot, and it was an awesome experience.”
Blum worked every other day in the cottages with ALEH’s residents, most of whom can’t walk, talk, or care for themselves. She took them outside, or helped them perform simple activities.
“I would sit and give them toys to play with to stimulate their senses,” said Blum, a graduate of Manalapan High School and daughter of Jeffrey and Jane Blum. “Sometimes with another aide, we would sit there all day or massage them with lotion, or do passive range of motion to stretch out their arms or legs.”
On other days, Blum worked at the facility’s school, tending and helping feed children diagnosed with cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.
“This was my third time in Israel, but I found it very different because the other times I was traveling and doing touristy things like museums,” she explained. “This time I became more a part of Israeli society. I lived in Be’er Sheva and went to work on buses. On weekends I traveled. I felt Israeli, not like a tourist.”
For Tammam, who had also been to Israel before as a tourist, the internship was “an interesting way to experience Israeli culture and life.”
For the first week, the graduate of what is now Golda Och Academy in West Orange — and the son of David and Janet Tammam — shadowed therapists.
“I got off the bus and did treatments with the patients, and then at the end of my day around lunchtime, I assisted teachers feeding residents,” he said.
The program also provided speakers and other educational programming. Participants had Wednesdays off and were taken on field trips, including a drive along the Gaza Strip border to learn about the conflict.
Rudin, the daughter of Susan and Bruce Rudin and a graduate of South Brunswick High School, was on a Birthright trip last year. “Honestly, the minute I got home I felt like I had to go back,” she said.
She called her internship experience “so incredible I can’t even put it into words” and said that “ALEH Negev is the most incredible place I’ve ever worked at.”
“I had never worked with this population before, but as I spent more time there, I began to learn about the residents and their personalities,” said Rudin. “It was really amazing to work in the houses with the residents and the school. I had a great experience in both.”