A Better Understanding of Living with a Disability

by Orlee Krass, Tikvah Director, Ramah Poconos

In February, after a mean case of the flu, I ended up in the hospital for meningitis. A couple of days into my treatment, I developed a brain bleed (a rare side effect of meningitis) that led me to lose mobility on my left side.

This was the first time I had personally experienced physical disability. Until now, my experience was limited to working with students or campers with physical disabilities. I could try to imagine what it was like, but I was not in their shoes. Now it was happening to me.

First I woke up one morning unable to feel my leg. Later that same day, I lost feeling in my arm. I won’t lie — I was scared. But I was also incredibly sad and angry. I am a “can do” person, not a “please, do it for me” person. Suddenly, I couldn’t do anything for myself. More importantly, I was missing out on a ton, and that made me the saddest and angriest. I was missing my kids. I was missing my husband. I was missing my parents and sisters. I was missing everything outside the hospital. Everyone tried to accommodate me: When I couldn’t go home to Shabbat dinner, Matt ate it with me in the hospital; when I couldn’t go to Micah’s band concert, my dad sent me a video; we FaceTimed and took pictures — but it wasn’t the same.

My experience with physical disability is temporary. I am assured that I will regain use of my left side through intensive occupational and physical therapy. But our campers with physical limitations and mobility issues face these types of challenges every single day of their lives, and they are permanent. And so, I find myself in the hospital with a million ideas racing through my head about how we can continue to make Ramah Poconos a home for everyone, regardless of physical limitations. Of course, we might not always be in the position to immediately say "yes" to every potential or current camper, but we are creative in our thinking and our doing. I know that certain camp experiences may be challenging for campers, but when faced with a different need or situation, our answer is never “no way,” but rather “let’s all think of how to get to yes.”

I am prouder than ever of the strides Ramah Poconos has taken to ensure that all our campers are immersed in our camp experience. We do our very best to integrate all campers in every activity to the extent comfortable and feasible. I am confident that the Tikvah program will continually expand to include a wider population and different needs. Each one of us is different, and we each add value to our community.

Last year, I rode in the Tikvah bike trip in Israel, and recently I'd started to consider whether I would do it again in 2019. I'd be lying if I said that I had no reservations — it was challenging, excruciating, and difficult. It was both the most miserable and most exhilarating experience I have ever had.

I consider myself lucky despite what has happened, because had I not been as lucky as I am, I may not have been physically capable of doing the bike ride again. So now I have every intention of riding again in 2019. More than ever, I am motivated to raise money to support our innovative and transformative programming, and our commitment to accessibility and inclusion.

As challenging as it will be, I am going to push myself to work harder, get stronger, and be a part of the 2019 Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip. I invite you all to join me in Israel as a rider, hiker, or volunteer, or to participate by sponsoring my ride or otherwise contributing to our efforts to strengthen the Ramah Poconos Tikvah Program.