RABBIS JAN AND ALAN KATZ
The year is 1968. Two Hebrew University students board an Egged bus at the university’s Givat Ram campus on their way to volunteer their time in giving back to the community in Israel where they were living. They meet. They date. They fall in love. They get married.
And that’s not the best part of the story! The best part is that Jan and Alan were on their way to volunteer at ALYN Hospital, then located at the monastery belonging to the St. Simon Orthodox Church. That was the beginning of a long history of involvement with each other, and with ALYN.
At ALYN, they were paired with a friend – a teenager in residence at ALYN. Jan was paired with Chaya; Alan with Tami. Both young women had lower body mobility issues. Tami used crutches and Chaya, a wheelchair. Jan and Alan would visit them once a week.
The four became good friends, and Alan endured a lot of ribbing over his poor Hebrew skills. Luckily, Jan’s Hebrew was strong. She was even taking regular courses at Hebrew University that year.
Tami and Chaya were fond of introducing Jan and Alan (and showing them off) to the other residents of ALYN and sharing details about their physical condition. From Chaya and Tami, they learned not only the breadth of medical conditions that needed attention and support (many from the residual effects of polio), but also the family and cultural variables that resulted in these children living at ALYN - on one hand, very sad; on the other hand, thankful that the State of Israel, from its inception, was committed to finding and developing the best care for every one of its inhabitants, no matter their physical status.
Sometimes the four would go on outings. At times, these were just walks at local parks. Not only was it the cheapest entertainment for all of them (Jan and Alan were just students) but there was no real yard at the monastery so being in nature was a real treat for everyone. Sometimes, the outings were more substantial. Jan and Alan recall a trip to the movie theater to see Gone with the Wind. As Jan teared up at the end, Tami and Chaya, the tough Israelis, had a good laugh at her expense!
Long before there was an ALYN Hospital Innovation Space, Jan remembers there was a resident maintenance person/carpenter who was called upon to make from whatever materials could be found assistive devices when they were needed to enable residents to accomplish tasks that physically able people take for granted. She remembers seeing him scrounge outside and in the neighborhood for scrap materials for this purpose. ALYN has come a long way!
Jan and Alan returned to Israel many times over the following years, although they have lost touch with Tami and Chaya, having last seen them in the 1980s. They have been to visit the new ALYN Hospital location in Kiryat Hayovel. Their connection to ALYN remains, 50 years later.
What was so impactful? Alan explains, “I had never had real experience with kids with physical challenges. Volunteering at ALYN really opened my eyes. I hadn’t really been tuned into the needs of children with challenges. The relationships we had with Tami and Chaya were so wonderful. They were so delightful. That year, Jan and I let the world open up to us.”
Jan adds, “Coming from, and living almost exclusively among Ashkenazi Jews, our encounters at ALYN brought us into the world of Mizrachi Jews and, thus, another experience of exposure and learning - about who is really Israel… The conditions at the time in the monastery in my eyes seemed ‘bare bones,’ dark, and gloomy yet the staff and residents were so joyful and playful - again, such resilience and hope stayed with me each week and continues to warm my heart 54 years later.”
We are grateful to Rabbis Jan and Alan for their long-term commitment to the work ALYN does and the values it represents. Thank you both for keeping the children of ALYN close to your hearts for all these years!