"Maybe I can do this."
Ellen Abberbock was excited to receive an invitation to her nephew's bar mitzvah in Beit Shemesh in a family group chat and put her plans in motion for travel to Israel over the Passover holiday this year. Travel to Israel requires a great deal of planning, even more so for Ellen, as she was born with Arthrogryposis, an orthopedic disability in which her feet, elbows, and hips are in a fixed, locked position. She uses a power wheelchair and other adaptive equipment in her home in West Hempstead, NY helped by a full-time aide that she affectionately calls her "personal assistant." A practicing attorney, Ellen works for the Department of Social Services in Nassau County, focusing on child support collection and other legal matters.
Planning began more than a year in advance. "To be able to be with your family," at an occasion like this, said Ellen, was very important." Israel is a big part of our community, and other people are always going there."
While investigating her trip, Ellen reached out to Shani Rosenfeld, the Director of Yad Sarah's Exhibition and Guidance Centers, and Rebecca Palmer, the branch manager at Yad Sarah's Beit Shemesh branch, to share her concerns and needs. Shani quickly responded, providing valuable advice and resources, and connecting Ellen with Elaine Pomerantz, a volunteer with Tourist Services at Yad Sarah. Shortly after, Elaine followed up with additional information and resources for transportation and wheelchair maintenance.
"My biggest concern was the flight to Israel," Ellen explained. The flight from New York to Israel is nearly 11 hours long and, due to her condition, Ellen needed advice on taking her wheelchair onboard the flight and accessing toilet facilities.
Pleased with the information and guidance she had received, Ellen moved forward with booking her flight to Israel and filing out the Tourist Services Request Form on Yad Sarah's website. "A wonderful man named Yakov got back to me about a week after I filled out the form," Ellen said. Yakov and Ellen discussed Ellen's needs for transportation and accommodations while in Israel. "Initially, my greatest need was for transportation from Ben Gurion Airport to my niece's house in Beit Shemesh and to the cemetery where my parents rest," said Ellen. While in Israel, Ellen planned to stay with her niece, who has an accessible room and bathroom in her home in Beit Shemesh. Ellen arranged to bring her own wheelchair and lift but required an electric hospital bed loan, wheelchair-accessible van transportation, advice on the best way to travel to Israel, and information on resources within Israel.
"Yakov kindly arranged all of this for me."
Upon returning to New York, Ellen reported that her trip was "just wonderful!" Given her physical challenges, there are very few places Ellen can travel that will provide the same high level of care as Yad Sarah. Ellen reflected on other vacation experiences she has had, visiting her brother in Brooklyn and staying there, and a trip to Baltimore for a family event where a hotel's accessible room accommodation was flawed, leaving her unable to reach the bathroom and limiting her independence.
"When I'm halfway around the world in New York and I need to know what resources are available in Israel, Yad Sarah is there, on the ground, to share valuable resources," Ellen explains. "They definitely know what's available, so why wouldn't you reach out?"
Ellen is beyond grateful that she was able to travel to Israel for her great nephew's bar mitzvah and hopes to return in a year and a half for another family occasion. "I look forward to using Yad Sarah's services on my next visit to Israel," says Ellen.
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