I walk through the Community Rowing parking lot, after a fun but tiring trip rowing down the Charles River, and take a sip from my orange-capped Yachad water bottle. I look down, glancing at the logo: “Yachad: Because Everyone Belongs.” This slogan is plastered across all the Yachad swag I’ve accumulated over the past five years. It has become firmly ingrained in my mind. In fact, when I think Yachad, “Because Everyone Belongs” immediately pops into my head. I love how simple yet profound this four-word phrase is; as a community, we are all Yachad [together], because everyone belongs—regardless of age and ability. This truly is the essence of Yachad! We are all friends, feel like a part of the group and enjoy activities together.

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Avigail, far right, with Yachad participant Jennifer (Courtesy Yachad)

I love how Yachad provides a comfortable and warm social environment for all, but “Everyone Belongs” extends beyond social belonging. Yachad provides an opportunity for people of all abilities to partake and truly belong in activities in which they might not have thought they could participate. This became real to me when I staffed Yachad’s series with Community Rowing. Having been a part of Yachad for years, I was unfazed by the idea of a Yachad rowing trip. However, whenever I talked to people about my Sunday plans to learn to row with Yachad, people reacted in amazement. Time and again people would ask me things like, “Will the Yachad members actually row?” and “So, you’ll be doing all the rowing, right?” I was floored. Of course the Yachad members would be rowing. And obviously, it would not just be me carrying the team. I mean, I’m not even athletic, so that wouldn’t work out well for anyone. Yachad means together, so clearly, we’d all row together.

Ironically, I actually didn’t row at all the first session. I sat in the center of the rowboat to help support a Yachad member who uses a wheelchair, but my main role was to keep the singing going. As I sat doing the easy job and watching the others row, I was inspired by how everyone—participants, volunteers, peers and staff alike—came together to propel the boat, and how even a Yachad member who physically could not row was able to participate, be a part of the group and have a blast. On a smaller level, I also experienced the open, non-judgmental environment myself. As I belted out the words to every Taylor Swift song I know, completely off-key and occasionally butchering the words, I knew that no one was judging me. Most of all, I loved seeing how my terrible singing voice brought joy to the other people on the boat, who would make song requests and join in from time to time. Any time I felt embarrassed or that I should maybe give the singing a rest, I’d look to my left and see how the girl next to me was beaming from ear to ear as her hands tightly gripped the oar, and I’d quickly start up the next song.

The next week, I actually did row, and again learned a valuable lesson: rowing is HARD. As I started to row, struggling to move my arms and feet in sync and already feeling sore, I looked around and was impressed by what I saw. The others were already naturals after one week. I laughed to myself, recalling how my friends had thought I would be pulling the weight—if anything, it was the other way around.

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Avigail and the rowers on the water (Courtesy Yachad)

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