Israel's only residential center geared solely for patients with multiple sclerosis, or MS, is expanding its operations in order to accept 10 more long-term residents. The Grabski Rehabilitation Center in Migdal Ha'Emek, run by the Colel Chabad social services agency, currently cares for 25 residents; besides the additional rooms, the renovation will include the construction of an outpatient clinic for high-functioning MS patients and those with other similar neurological disorders.

In addition, officials at Colel Chabad – an organization established by the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in 1788, that is perhaps best known for its food distribution network and soup kitchens throughout Israel – are planning to build a therapeutic garden at the rehabilitation center in the next year.

According to Dr. Daniel Kantor, director of the Comprehensive MS Center at the University of Florida & Shands in Jacksonville, Fla., the idea of a residential center for those with MS is a novel approach to maintaining patients' quality of life. The chronic disease affects the brain, eyes and spinal chord, causing visual blurring, fatigue, pain, memory difficulties, tremors and other movement problems.


"Many of the symptoms are invisible to the observer, but can have life-changing consequences for those diagnosed with MS," explained Kantor, a board-certified neurologist. "It affects the young and old, the rich and poor, people of all races and religions, and knows no boundaries. It can be a disabling condition, leading to the need for wheelchairs."

Orit Adri, 56, came to the Grabski center shortly after its opening 12 years ago. Diagnosed with MS more than 30 years ago, she used to work as a medical secretary at various hospitals before the disease prevented her employment. She said the center allows her to socialize with people who know what she's going through.

"Now, it is hard enough for the healthy to get a job, how much more so for the sick," said Adri. "This place gives me a lot. I have friends here."

Adri said that she participates in the center's many activities, including ceramics, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and gardening in an indoor workshop located in the cafeteria. She was excited about the planned outdoor garden.

Colel Chabad’s Grabski Rehabilitation Center, a residential complex for MS patients in Israel, offers medical services as well as therapeutic activities, such as art classes.
Colel Chabad’s Grabski Rehabilitation Center, a residential complex for MS patients in Israel, offers medical services as well as therapeutic activities, such as art classes.
"It will be fun to have a garden where we can walk around and sit," she said of the future Kestenbaum Family Therapeutic Park, which will include a fish pond, air-conditioned greenhouse and a wheelchair-accessible gazebo overlooking the Carmel mountains and the city of Haifa. "This is a special place."

Adri also said that she can't wait to bring her grandchildren to the petting zoo to be built on premises.

Alan Kestenbaum and the Jewish community of Great Neck in New York is funding the garden.

Rabbi Zeev Crombie, director of the Grabski center, said that the complex not only operated with an eye to its patients' physical and mental well-being, but also their spiritual health. It's staff of 50 includes doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and post-high school girls completing their terms of National Service. It is supervised by the Rehabilitation Department of the Israeli Ministry of Welfare.

"The center provides round-the-clock assistance for residents with whatever they need, including routine tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing," said Rabbi Zeev Crombie, director of the Grabski center. "The patients, who come from around the country and from all backgrounds, in many cases are learning Torah for the first time here."

In addition to its therapeutic programs, the center offers music classes, concerts, baking workshops and field trips. Crombie also gives an introductory-level class on the weekly Torah portion, and the center runs Shabbat and holiday services and celebrations.

"The two main treatment options for MS were first developed first in Israel," said Kantor. "And now the Grabski Rehabilitation Center is again showing how Israel can be a light unto the nations, by expanding its comprehensive approach to helping people disabled by MS and other neurological diseases.

"We would welcome such an approach in the United States."