In 2007, Eran Almog, the autistic son of Doron Almog, an Israeli war hero and former Major General with the Israel Defence Forces, died after a long battle with Castleman’s disease.
He was 23.
Up until his death, Eran Almog had resided at Aleh Negev, a 25-acre rehabilitation village for disabled children and adults in southern Israel that his father built as an “oasis” for him and other disabled children across Israel. A multifaceted facility designed specifically for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, it is one of four facilities that provides medical, educational, and rehabilitative care to some 650 children through ALEH, a non-profit organization committed to changing the face of rehabilitative care in Israel.
The organization also provides thousands of outpatient treatments annually.
Attendees at a fundraiser organized by Canadian Friends of ALEH learned of Almog and Aleh Negev’s origins at a recent event at the PI Fine Art Gallery in North York, Ontario, which featured a nine-course meal by renowned Israeli chef David Biton of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. “It’s very exciting to take part in this amazing initiative,” he told The CJN.
Though there was certainly an emphasis on the carefully-prepared plates and selection of Israeli and kosher wines that were served to guests, the real focus of the evening was the children, as one could derive from the dinner conversation. Members in attendance truly seemed to care about the services ALEH offers to children and adults with disabilities; many proposed that as an organization, it is unparalleled due to its staff’s relentless, round-the-clock care to their patients.
ALEH believes that every child, regardless of the severity of the physical or cognitive disability, has the right to benefit from the best available care in order to reach his or her fullest potential, attendees were told.
The organization’s dedication in this field was most candidly represented by the president of Canadian Friends of ALEH Norman Godfrey, president of Toronto-based Yorkwood Building Group. “I feel privileged to be in a room full of people who not only understand but demonstrate their commitment to helping enrich the lives of the children and families of Aleh,” Godfrey told The CJN.
“These children are the weakest of our society,” he continued. “In the world of tzedakah, they will never be able to say thank you to the donors here tonight. But as the Rav HaKotel [Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch of the Western Wall] has said many times, the thanks for supporting the children of ALEH ultimately comes from HaShem.”
Through ALEH, Godfrey said, children with disabilities and mental retardation are able to live in the same way as non-disabled children: attending school, participating in vocational programs, enjoying fun activities, etc. ALEH’s goal is to create a more inclusive society in Israel, developing numerous programs that involves families, children, university students, IDF soldiers, and hundreds of volunteers.
When Doron Almog first learned about ALEH, he was skeptical to leave Eran in their care, Godfrey said. “He asked one of the caregivers, ‘Who will kiss my son before he goes to sleep?’ The caregiver responded, ‘I will.'”
Alan Sacks, brother of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, was also in attendance, and his daughter, Miriam, helped organize the fundraiser. “Once you see what ALEH accomplishes, you become addicted, and you can’t turn your back on it or be indifferent anymore,” he told The CJN. “These are children who, through no fault of their own, are entirely dependent on others, and they have tremendous personalities. The Jewish approach to life is that every life is sacred and valid for what it is. These children are happy to be treated as individuals and with care.”
To learn more about ALEH, visit the website here.