JERUSALEM, Israel - Standing at 220,000 square feet, the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem is the world’s largest facility dedicated to serving disabled people.
Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, focuses on the research, rehabilitation, and inclusion of people with disabilities. The facility serves about 1,000 people a day.
Rabbi Kalman Samuels told CBN News Shalva’s name and mission comes straight from the Bible.
“Shalva means serenity, peace of mind. It's an organization that my wife and I set up many years ago and its source of that name is Biblical. It's Psalms 122:7: ‘May there be peace in your walls’ – Shalva, serenity – ‘within your palaces.’ We chose that name because what we desire to do in this organization is to provide serenity and peace of mind for people who don't have it,” Samuels said.
For Rabbi Samuels, Shalva hits close to home. His family started the organization after their son Yossi was injured by a defective vaccine.
“Yossi was injured amongst many others and he became blind, deaf, and very hyperactive. So, our lives got flipped on its head,” said Samuels.
Afraid of ridicule and prejudice, Samuel’s wife Malki cried out to God.
“Malki used to cry and say, ‘God, I'm never taking Yossi out of the home, but if You ever decide to help my Yossi, I will dedicate my life to helping other mothers and their children. And seven years later, we were witness to the Helen Keller miracle where Yossi got suddenly a breakthrough to communication when a woman in a deaf school spelled the world table’ in Hebrew letters in the palm of his hand and he suddenly realized that was this object,” explained Samuels.
Gradually, Yossi learned to spell and speak.
Malki and her husband kept that promise to God and decided to help disabled children like her son.
“It started with six children in one garden apartment. Malki ran the program. By this time, I was in the computer field and we thought it was amazing to be able to serve six kids. What we didn't know is that God has a great sense of humor and very different plans and it kept growing in leaps and in bounds," said Samuels.
Shalva has since grown to serve thousands of disabled people from birth to adulthood.
The organization gained worldwide popularity when The Shalva Band, made of 8 musicians with disabilities, performed for the Eurovision international music contest before millions of people.
Last year, they competed in The Rising Star in Israel and made it to the finals.
Samuels wrote a book about Shalva called Dreams Never Dreamed. He hopes audiences learn that regular people can move mountains.
“I think the biggest takeaway is, is that with God's help, ordinary people can sometimes do things that are not considered ordinary. We could never have dreamt of this. We're people who tried who pushed and we see a blessing that we've been able to build something that we're humbled by what it has become. But it's not about us. It's about every one of us as human beings that we have to have our dreams, we have to follow our dreams and with God's help, these dreams can come true.”
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