by Victoria Fishman
Sometimes, articulating the essence of Keshet and profound impact it has on so many people can be difficult. Keshet is not merely an organization that supports individuals with disabilities; it’s a vibrant and warm community that fosters belonging, acceptance, and the richness of Jewish traditions and values for all that are part of it. As a sibling to a brother with a disability and a Keshet participant, I am a witness to the transformative power of Keshet, an impact that has profoundly touched my family and me. Now as a member of the Leadership Council, I get to experience what being part of Keshet’s community not only looks like, but feels like, too.
My older brother, Ethan, has participated in Keshet programs at various points throughout his lifetime, from camp to his bar mitzvah to recreation programs. Our family was lucky to have the guidance and support of my mom’s dear friend Abbie Weisberg who encouraged us to become involved with Keshet, as we needed a lifeline of support during the challenges of Ethan’s childhood. As Ethan grew, it was clear there were no solutions for independent living within our community that would give him the same adult life my parents envisioned for each of their three children. Working tirelessly together for many years, my family partnered with Keshet to establish the MY Life residential program in 2015. At the time, I was away at college, yet I recognized the significance of this milestone. Our family’s dream of independence for Ethan, of living on his own within our hometown community, became a reality thanks to the unwavering support of Keshet and its incredible staff. For the past 8 years, Ethan has found an extended family in Keshet, a group of people who have embraced him with unconditional love and support. Witnessing this has been nothing short of amazing. Even when we are on vacation, I hear Ethan in the next room chatting with his friends or staff, updating them about what he’s been up to, asking about their days, and sharing that he misses them. Moments like these fill my heart.
Our family has always been among Keshet’s most enthusiastic supporters. During his high school years, my younger brother Adam volunteered weekly with the MY Life residents, creating a sports program with basketball games in the winter and teaching them to play their new favorite sport, golf, in the summer. I knew that I, too, longed to become involved when I one day returned to Chicago.
My connection with Keshet blossomed while living at home during the COVID lockdown. Between the endless Zoom calls, drive-by birthdays and virtual programming, I got a bigger glimpse into Ethan’s day-to-day life with Keshet. Keshet was nothing short of remarkable in doing everything they did to keep their programs going and participants engaged in a time when everyone in the world was struggling immensely. During this time, I began volunteering via Zoom to lead baking and cooking classes where I created stronger connections with Keshet’s participants. It felt like I started to become more than just “Ethan’s sister,” though it’s a title I’ll always proudly proclaim.
This deeper connection with Keshet ignited a desire within me to become involved beyond just being a sibling and a donor. Last year, after permanently moving back to Chicago, I joined Keshet’s Leadership Council, a group of young professionals who support Keshet through fundraising events, volunteering, raising awareness, and participating in activities alongside Keshet peers. In typical Keshet fashion, I was warmly welcomed and accepted by this special group, and was in awe of what they’ve achieved over the past 10+ years. I’m honored to take on the role as Chair to lead the board moving into 2024 and beyond. We’ve already grown our membership tremendously in recent months, and I look forward to seeing what else is in store as we evolve.
There are almost not the right words to describe the warmth, excitement, and acceptance that you feel the moment you walk into any Keshet program or event. It’s a feeling and a family that you truly can’t find anywhere else. My latest example is a Chanukah party/Shabbat dinner my parents hosted for all of Ethan’s MY Life housemates and staff in December. The evening was one of my favorite memories of 2023. It was a night full of delicious food, Chanukah traditions, conversation, and laughter. Every one of Ethan’s friends and staff call my 90-year-old grandmother, Baubie—a testament to the family that is Keshet. Nights like these epitomize the spirit of Keshet: a celebration of life and inclusion with those we love. I’m forever grateful for the impact Keshet has had on my family’s life, and I look forward to continuing to deepen my involvement with the Keshet community for many years to come.