During this time of uncertainty and exponential change in our society, Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) affiliate ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a world-class rehabilitative village located in the heart of the Negev, is doing its best to take care of Israel’s most vulnerable while ensuring that no member of society is endangered or left behind.

At ALEH Negev, where children and adults with severe and complex disabilities are cared for, the facility’s primary concern is ensuring the safety and continued health of their residents, all of whom have compromised immune systems and weak respiratory functions.

“As of early last week, we’ve had to come to terms with a sobering new reality as we strive to ensure that all daily intensive care and rehabilitative services remain on track for our residents with severe disabilities,” said chairman and founder of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran Major General (Res.) Doron Almog, in reference to the COVID-19 reality in which Israel and the rest of the world now live.

The hospital has taken extreme measures to ensure the health and well-being of its patients and staff. Visitors, including family members, are currently not permitted to enter the facility. Only 180 of the 500 staff members are permitted to care for the residents following the implementation of the most stringent sterilization protocol, and only 100 of the nearly 800 volunteers (those who live on campus and function as part of the staff) are permitted to work with the residents.

All staff members have received special training and are under strict guidelines, including limiting their exposure to groups of 10 people or less and tracking their every move. To further limit potential exposure, staff members have been assigned to specific residents and are not permitted to switch shifts with other staff members in order to avoid cross-contamination. Only 24 rehabilitation patients from the surrounding community—those in need of continued care for severe conditions—are permitted to enter the village.

The hydrotherapy pool and rehabilitative horse stable and petting zoo have regrettably been closed, and all vocational training programs have been canceled. Likewise, the special education school, which caters to more than 130 children from the community who live outside ALEH Negev, has been closed for the time being.

To stay connected and provide its partners—its donors—with relevant and informative content, Jewish National Fund-USA launched a suite of On Demand programming this week. One of the first episodes was an update from ALEH Negev. Viewers got an in-depth and personal account of what a life-changing experience it is to volunteer at this remarkable village from journalist Michelle Divon, who spent a week there earlier this year. “My experience at ALEH Negev is one that will stay with me forever,” recounted Divon. “It has also validated my long-held belief that we must do more to support members of our community with special needs.”

On the Zoom call was JNF Boston Sapphire Society president Rhonda Forman, who expressed her desire to return to ALEH Negev in October, after having to return early from her current volunteering session: “This was the second time I’ve given my time to ALEH Negev. I feel it’s important to note that ALEH Negev is a place that relies on JNF-USA and which runs on volunteers. When I came to ALEH Negev at the end of January, they had 20 foreign volunteers. Today, they have less than 12 because some are in quarantine.”

The remaining staff and volunteers are doing their best to keep some degree of normality for the residents. Rhonda noted: “We had to start dressing up in what were effectively hospital scrubs along with gloves and masks. At first, we tried to minimize our use of the masks so the residents could see our faces. This was important because some of them are deaf and many rely on seeing our faces to read our emotions.”

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