When it comes to selecting their favorite recreational group activity, Yachad New York participants always choose bowling. Imagine the thrill, when 12 of them were presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bowl at the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley on a recent visit to the White House.
Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union, helps individuals with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities participate more fully in the community, via social, recreational, educational, and vocational programs in 10 regions across the United States, Israel and Canada.
Accompanied by eight staff members, 12 Yachad New York participants ages 17 to 37 recently traveled to Washington D.C. for a White House bowling session and tour organized by Yachad’s Rabbinic and Spiritual Advisor Rabbi Shay Schachter.
“It is always a pleasure spending quality time with Yachad participants,” says Rabbi Schachter, who joined the group onsite. “But nothing in the world can compare to sharing Yachad participants’ joy, smiles and excitement while bowling at the White House! What a memorable day for all of us.”
“We had a nice representation of participants from various Yachad programs,” says Yachad New York Director Rebecca Schrag Mayer. “Some attend Yachad’s Ivdu School, some go to Yachad’s day and vocational programs, and all of them had the pleasure of sharing what they did and learned with peers in various programs once they returned.”
Yachad New York runs regular social and recreational programs including weekly activities, shabbatons and holiday-related events, often in partnership with local synagogues and schools. Schrag Mayer says the White House outing was the most exciting to date, and participants’ delight was palpable.
“Prior to the trip, everyone attended a Zoom training session where we discussed the role and activities of the White House and outlined our expectations including appropriate behavior and attire,” she says. “We told them they could wear nicer clothes, but that they didn’t need to be fancy. Yet so many of our participants showed up wearing suits and ties the day of our trip in honor of the visit!”
Despite the very long distance, the bus rides to and from Washington were remarkably enjoyable; people played games, exchanged trivia, watched movies and chatted excitedly.
“Some of the staff who joined us were so surprised to see the excitement of certain participants who tend to be on the quieter side,” says Schrag Mayer. “Our participants generally lead very routine lives – they go to their job sites, day programs or schools and return home to their families or group homes. This trip was a chance for them to go somewhere very special on their own, and it was a very big deal.”
Participants’ families were equally enthusiastic about the trip. In honor of the occasion, Jake Rosenthal’s parents, of Woodmere, New York, sponsored “Bowling at the White House 2023” sweatshirts for the entire group that included Yachad’s logo alongside an American flag.
Following almost two hours of bowling in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the guests were treated to kosher snacks, the group enjoyed a guided tour of notable rooms and sites.
“I liked the White House staff,” says New Yorker David Orlansky. “They made the extra effort to let me ride the elevator. I really enjoyed the tour and seeing where so many people come to work. I want to write them thank you letters.”
Other trip highlights included numerous photo ops, davening Mincha outside the White House, and box sets of Hershey’s kisses signed by President Biden which were gifted to each participant upon departing.
“We are so appreciative to the White House staff for making this opportunity possible for Yachad,” says Schrag Mayer. “Our staff and participants had an incredibly meaningful, educational, and fun time.”
“The gesture and outreach were particularly profound in light of the situation in Israel,” she adds. “White House staff truly opened their doors and hearts to our community.”
Several Yachad visitors gave White House staff notes of gratitude addressed to President Biden in recognition of his unequivocal support for Israel.
“Our participants talked a lot about the Biden Administration’s support for Israel and asked one another if they had watched his remarks following October 7,” says Schrag Mayer
Reflecting on the adventure, Ariana Siegel of Valley Stream, New York, says, “This was the most epic day of my whole life. Going into the White House was an experience that not everyone gets to have!”