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Larry Hurtig
photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg


By Rhonda Spivak, January 24, 2011

On his recent trip to Israel, Rob Berkowits, Executive Director of the Jewish National Fund in Winnipeg, visited Shechafim Special Education School. Significant contributions derived from the 2008 Negev Gala in honour of Larry Hurtig, z"L, were directed to this school. Hurtig passed away on October 6, 2010.
"We visited the interactive green schoolyard created by KKL-JNF at the school. The yard, which used to be neglected and abandoned, has turned into a lively and exciting place, . The schoolyard now is beautifully landscaped, has a roofed playground, fun playground equipment, a greenhouse for growing vegetables, an herb garden, and a zoo corner," says Berkowits".
The school, which is located within the boundaries of the Mevo’ot Hermon Regional Council, has a student body of about fifty students with medium to high levels of cognitive impairment, from all over Israel’s northern region and from all sectors and religions (Jews, Moslems, Christians) . Most of them have motor and sensory limitations, in addition to their cognitive deficiencies, such as Cerebral Palsy, physical handicaps and impaired vision.
"The children were happy to see us. Notwithstanding all of the complex problems, this school is a place of happiness, creativity, giving the children a connection to nature. Our tour was led by the school's principal Ishai Adler. Principal Adler is a warm and compassionate individual" Berkowits adds.
“Our goal is to encourage independence in these children, to develop their life skills and to find channels for communication. All of these objectives are attainable through our schoolyard activities, far more than in an indoor classroom,” says Adler.
Except for a very few, none of these children are able to speak, read or write, but as Berkowits notes, "when they work in the greenhouse and touch the plants and the earth with their hands, there is no need for words,"
Many of the school activities focus on sensory stimulation—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Going out to the schoolyard awakens their sensory perception. The children see the trees, touch the leaves, smell the flowers, hear the birds chirping, pet the bunnies and ferrets in the zoo corner, and taste the tomatoes and cucumbers that they themselves grew in the greenhouse.
Michal Shalom, a science teacher at the school, says that many of the children are very tense in the classroom, but when they go outside to the open air, they immediately feel relaxed.
Adler, who taught physical education, before becoming principal, told us that the exercise facilities in the schoolyard are very important. Adler told us about one boy whom doctors thought   would never be able to walk. This boy recently started standing on his feet and taking steps. At present, he goes outside by himself for outings. There is no doubt that the schoolyard activities had a lot to do with it.”
"It was very moving to see how Larry Hurtig, was able to make such a big difference for these children. His legacy is truly inspirational “Berkowits says.
Larry Hurtig was born in Winnipeg in 1937. In the fall of 1952, he contracted polio. After an extensive stay at Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg, Larry returned home and with great determination and perseverance he learn to walk again. In 1962 earned his Chartered Accountant’s degree from the University of Manitoba and worked in public and private practice for many years.
Larry’s connection to the intellectually challenged began early on. He served on the Board of DASCH (Direct Action Support of Community Homes), was the founding President of Versatech Charitable Foundation, and Treasurer of Versatech Industries Inc., one of the largest workshops for the intellectually challenged.
Larry  had three children with his wife, Roberta-- Bradley, Jack and Renee. When their son Bradley was diagnosed with autism, their lives changed. Larry and Roberta joined with five other families in founding Shalom Residences, an organization that now runs group homes and apartments for the intellectually challenged. Larry served as founding President of the Shalom Residences Foundation for well over 20 years.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.