A resident of the Grabski Center enjoys a carriage ride. (Courtesy Colel Chabad Staff)

With Israel’s remarkable success at vaccinating the majority of its population and dramatically reducing the spread of the coronavirus, many social restrictions have been lifted, allowing the population to return to normal life.

For a group of 60 physically disabled adults, the recent relaxation of coronavirus restrictions meant that they could go out of their rehabilitative residence as a group for the first time in nearly a year.

The outing, arranged for the residents of the Grabski and Finger Centers for Multiple Sclerosis, operated by Colel Chabad, was described by the organizers as a “first taste of freedom after what has been an extremely challenging few months.”

All of the residents are bound to wheelchairs and suffer from different degrees of neurological disease, making the concept of being home-bound and staying safe that much more challenging.  Accompanied by 90 staff members, the group set off to the Jordan Valley Village, a fully accessible park complex in the Lower Galilee. There they were able to partake in recreational activities not typically available to them, including rides on horse-drawn carriages, an omega line specifically outfitted for wheelchairs alongside other sports, and art programming.

“Since early March of last year, almost our entire daily focus has been on keeping our residents safe and ensuring that they wouldn’t be directly impacted by the virus, but now we felt that the has come for them to enjoy the release they so needed and deserved,” said Koby Vizel, director of the Grabski Center in Migdal Haemek in Israel’s North. “They were on cloud nine – and literally soaring through the sky. It was an incredible site to see and we were all left feeling a sense of high at the end of the day.”

Rabbi Sholom Duchman, director of Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest-running social services organization since 1788, said: “These are individuals who face daily challenges and are unable to enjoy what the rest of us take for granted, even during a normal time. This past year for them, having been safely closed off from the outside world in order to protect them from this deadly virus has been extremely difficult, and we were all hoping and praying that this day would come as soon as possible.”

The day, generously supported by the Meromim Foundation, culminated with a concert from one of Israel’s most popular music stars, Yishai Ribo, who performed exclusively for the group.

“If there is a glimmer of hope and positivity that we can take from these past months, it’s that our staff and residents have come together in ways that might not have been possible without these lockdowns,” Vizel said. “But to see them finally get out and be able to enjoy fresh air, activities and fun, those are the scenes we’ve all been looking forward to – we only hope that they will be able to continue.”