When it came to Purim this year, the disabled at the Grabski Rehabilitation Center in Migdal HaEmek, Israel, had a special celebration thanks to visits from the town’s mayor and the mayor of Miami Beach, Fla.

A project of the Colel Chabad social services agency, the Grabski Center is home to the first and only Israeli residential facility for sufferers of debilitating neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. All the residents are wheelchair-bound, and some can hardly talk. A number of them have poor head control and minimal use of their limbs. The center offers both a residential service to 35 multiple-sclerosis patients, as well as a day program for 50, and most were on hand for the Purim festivities.

“The Grabski Center is just one of dozens of Colel Chabad and institutions throughout Israel that address the needs of the disadvantaged and helpless,” said Colel Chabad’s Rabbi Menachem Traxler. He added that the organization’s greatest effort is directed toward eliminating hunger among the poor through a chain of soup kitchens, food-distribution programs and subsidized supermarkets.

The day before Purim, the center hosted Migdal HaEmek’s mayor Elyahu Barda, who helped residents get into the joyous mood of the holiday.

“The residents and staff truly appreciated the mayor’s visit,” said Rabbi Zeev Crombie, Grabski’s director. “He has been a great support to the project from day one. And we are thankful that he came to the center to help us have a festive Purim.”

Staff and residents all dressed up for Purim.
Staff and residents all dressed up for Purim.

On Purim morning, residents, their families and staff enjoyed a day in the center’s new Kestenbaum Family Therapeutic Park. The garden was specifically designed with raised flowerbeds to accommodate those in wheelchairs and allow them to participate in gardening, all in the backdrop of a stunning view of Haifa.

Residents came dressed in costume. Volunteers from the nearby Chabad-Lubavitch Sdei Yaakov Yeshiva joined the party and acted out the Purim story for the attendees. Singing, dancing and a game of “Purim” Bingo came next.

Special guest Matti Herrera Bower, the mayor of Miami Beach, Fla., attended the festivities as part of a visit to Israel. The mayor said she relished projects made by the residents, including pottery, jewelry and paper-mâché pieces. She even bought some jewelry to take home.

Yaakov Amos, who lives at Grabski, explained his emotional ups and downs at Bower’s visit. “I needed to go to the dentist and was afraid that I wouldn’t be back in time to see you,” he told her. “I am so happy I came back on time.”

Others enjoyed “dancing” with the mayor as she moved their wheelchairs to and fro, and some got their pictures taken with her.

Crombie expressed his appreciation that the mayor took time out of her schedule to participate in the holiday’s events. “I was very touched to see how she connected with the residents, and showed such warmth, love and concern,” he said.

Rivital Nissim has been a resident of Grabski for nine years. She said she enjoys living at the center and noted "how special it is, everyone is like family." For Nissim, the fact that someone of importance had come from overseas to spend time with the residents was particularly meaningful. "She only speaks English and they had to translate for me but she is a special lady and it's the first time I met someone from overseas making a special visit to us at the center."

As for Barda, she commented that “when I judge a place I visit, I judge by the people. I am a people’s mayor, and the people of Israel are just wonderful, happy and full of life.”

At the conclusion of the festivities, arts-department director Natali Charitonov, together with Crombie, presented the Miami mayor and her assistant with mishloach manot baskets filled with holiday treats.

"It was a very moving and happy occasion, with the highlight being the visit from Mayor Bower. She truly appreciated all the activities at Grabski and the high level of care,” Charitonov said.

Special Purim gifts for visitors after a presentation by arts-department director Natali Charitonov, left, and Rabbi Zeev Crombie, director of the Grabski center.
Special Purim gifts for visitors after a presentation by arts-department director Natali Charitonov, left, and Rabbi Zeev Crombie, director of the Grabski center.