With the change of seasons from winter to spring, I found myself surrounded by blossoming flowers as nature came back to life.
“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” Proverb
But in the past few months, I have found myself surrounded by roses, both literally and metaphorically!
Beauty and the Beast
Approximately two months ago, I got a call from the manager of the Center for Independent Living (CIL) Jerusalem asking me to volunteer in a play at Hebrew University with both disabled and non-disabled participants.
Specifically, she asked if I wanted an acting role. While I did a greatjob in acting in my synagogue’s production of Annie in 2000, it reassured her that it would be better for everyone if I didn’t act.
To this she responded, the show would be, in fact, a musical, so I would be doing more singing than acting. She didn’t know that my musical abilities are even worse than my acting abilities.
While I politely refused an acting role, I did agree to be part of the crew. While I have some artistic talent, I wasn’t sure what my work as a crew member would entail.
I am now head of props and with only a month to go before the play, I have a lot of work ahead of me!
With a cast of 19 people (10 members of the CIL, 8 students from the Hebrew University Theatre Program) a director teacher at the university and two assistants, we are putting on Beauty and the Beast (on wheels). The CIL participants have a range of physical and mental challenges, ranging from blindness to paralysis, cognitive challenges and learning disabilities on varying levels. For the university students in the Theater Program, this theater production was presented to them the same as any other credit-bearing course. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into. This is an amazing project that brings students and people with disabilities together to do things they all love: singing, acting and dancing…all while sitting in wheel chairs.
Watching the bonds and friendships that have formed throughout the last few weeks has been eye opening for me as a volunteer. The story of Beauty and the Beast is centered on a rose and the short time that the Beast has to find true love before the rose petals all fall off and die. This play has not only given the two groups of people the opportunity to collaborate, but it has also given the students the opportunity to see the individuality of each actor beyond their disability.
Test Run at the Botanical Garden
As part of Israel Unlimited a strategic public-private partnership between the Government of Israel, JDC and the Ruderman Family Foundation, one of my co-workers is working to create awareness about environmental sustainability within the disabled population. As part of her project, she is working on implementing program accessible to people with disabilities at the Jerusalem Botanical Garden. We took a sample of our target population on a tour to see what would interest them and explore the accessibility options inside the Garden.
I accompanied one of the participants, Shoshanna, during the tour and activity since she is blind and needed some extra assistance. Shoshanna is also acting in Beauty and the Beast and I have learned that she is a social, bubbly woman with a beautiful voice. To my astonishment, when I met her that morning at the entrance to the park, I realized that she didn’t know what she was attending.
Shoshanna heard the word participate in a trial and said okay. When I informed her of our morning activities she strongly regretted her decision to come since she hates every aspect – the smell, the texture – of flowers.
It was a beautiful sunny day and all the flowers and trees were in bloom. While I am lucky enough to appreciate the garden using all of my senses, Shoshanna is not as lucky. A basket was prepared for each participant so that they could get up close and personal with each flower, tree and plant that was mentioned during the tour without leaving their seat.
No matter what I said and did during the tour on a train ride and a hands on planting activity at the end, Shoshanna refused to part take in anything and swore that she could tell us each kind of plant by its description and not by tasting, smelling or feeling it. Putting her to the test, the tour guide prepared a few spices and herbs in a silk sack and then proceeded to test the woman by describing the seeds and allowing everyone else to feel and smell. Shoshanna got them all right!
At the end of the day’s events, we went around in a circle and said something about the program. I was really worried about what she was going to say since it was being videotaped. However, instead of saying negative things about the activities, she brought me to tears. She thanked the tour guide and the Joint for the program and giving her the opportunity to take part in the event. She said, that for the first time in her life, she was able to imagine what the flowers and garden looked like with all the colors and smells even though she could not see. She could picture what the Garden of Eden looked like. By the time she finished speaking, we were all drying our tears. While she still refused to touch or smell the flowers, we officially changed something in her. It was a great and unforgettable experience!