Released by Koren Publishers (Toby Press), Dreams Never Dreamed: A Mother’s Promise That Transformed Her Son’s Breakthrough into a Beacon of Hope is a special and emotionally moving memoir that will have a powerful impact on the reader.
It is the intensely personal story of Kalman Samuels, his son Yossi, and the founding of Shalva, one of the world’s leading organizations in the field of disability care and inclusion.
Shalva leads the way the world understands, cares for, and embraces disability. Yossi Samuels is the inspiration behind its founding and the motivation behind its continued growth. It all began with the heartfelt pledge that Yossi’s mother, Malki, made to Hashem.
Canadian college student Kerry Samuels had planned to spend six weeks of his summer vacation studying in France. Personable and popular, Kerry was a top student and sports enthusiast with diverse interests. Now he was heading to France to perfect his mastery of the French language. Due to an unexpected chain of events, however, Kerry never made it to France. Instead, he made a life-altering turn and landed in Israel. As he began discovering his roots, he became increasingly enamored with the country and interested in learning more about his heritage. To the shock of his parents, family, and friends, Kerry decided to remain in Israel, join a Chassidic community, and switch his field to Jewish studies.
Moreover, Kerry was now being called by his Hebrew name, “Kalman.” Attempting to dissuade him, his family sent friends to “bring him to his senses” and back to Vancouver; however, all attempts proved futile and Kalman remained resolute, determined to immerse himself in Torah studies. At the age of 21, he married his wife, Malki, and the couple began to raise a family. In 1977, when their infant son Yossi was 11 months old, he became blind, deaf, and acutely hyperactive. For Kalman and Malki Samuels, Yossi’s young parents, the situation seemed hopeless. With two babies to care for and a third on the way, the young couple invested all their time and efforts into Yossi, leaving them drained.
Friends and other professionals, with the best of intentions, suggested they place Yossi in an institution to alleviate the family burden, but the family would hear nothing of it. “I didn’t get Yossi in a corner store,” she responded adamantly whenever the subject was raised. As difficult as the situation was, Malki never gave up.
“In Dreams Never Dreamed,” Samuels struggles with life’s bitter and sweet in pursuit of good. Driven by humorous stories and insights, this memoir is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming, demonstrating how ordinary people can create extraordinary change and transform life’s challenges into opportunities.
This is the stuff of nightmares. Malki was the first to realize that something terrible had happened to her child. “This is not my Yossi!” she cried upon returning from the pediatrician’s office. Specialists in Israel and the United States confirmed that her adorable baby boy, so full of life, had been rendered blind and deaf. After years of heartache and frustration, patience and perseverance, Samuels eventually proved to judicial satisfaction that by the time his son had been vaccinated, Israel’s health authorities had known for almost five months that the batch they were using was dangerously flawed.
The family’s journey into the courtroom, involving medical tests and the gathering of medical testimony from a succession of specialists, took six long years, and it was only in September 1985 that the Samuels family was in a position to file their suit. Contested by the authorities, the case itself dragged. Finally, in 1990, a court-brokered settlement was agreed upon by both sides.
As the court case ensued, however, Yossi was experiencing a miracle. When he was eight years old, Yossi experienced a breakthrough similar to that of Helen Keller. It was during this period that he had started his formal education. Enrolled in a special school, he had been provided with a private teacher as well as a customized program to address his needs. Under the auspices of the school, the Samuels family became acquainted with Shoshana Weinstock, an extraordinary and gifted special-education teacher, who positively impacted Yossi and transformed his life forever. Rendered deaf from meningitis as a child, she agreed to give Yossi, who could neither speak nor sign, private tutoring and also teach the family sign language so they could communicate with him. She told the family, “You, too, are going to learn the letters, and you’ll at last be able to speak to your brother.”
He was working with Shoshana when he learned Hebrew finger spelling, stimulated into the palm of his hand. “Shulchan” was the first word he learned, and after that, “he was off to the races,” his father recalls. Shoshana had opened the door to language, transforming Yossi’s life forever. Possessed with a passion for learning, there was no stopping him!
Yossi advanced with astonishing alacrity. Conquering heretofore uncharted territory with facile, he learned braille, and was soon not only reading braille, but writing it on the special six-key braille machine. Then Shoshana undertook what might have been considered the challenging task of teaching Yossi Hebrew. Not only did she have to convey what sound is to a child who could neither see nor hear, but also how to vocalize letters and sounds.
“She all but crawled with her fingers into Yossi’s mouth to teach him each consonant and vowel.” Samuels recalls vividly. “Yossi placed his hands on her face and fingered her lips and the vibrations around her mouth and throat, as he struggled to pronounce the symbols and sounds finger-spelled into his palm.”
So inspired was Malki by the treatment that she asked her husband to help make it available to other families in need. Their vision was a center with after-school therapy and support for children with disabilities. The result was Shalva — the Hebrew word for serenity — although the challenges involved in bringing the concept to fruition proved greater than either of them could have imagined.
Believing that the care of children with disabilities should not be left to the family alone, Malki and Kalman Samuels created a therapeutic environment in which these children could grow and thrive.
Malki founded Shalva as an afternoon program for children with disabilities to help their families cope and provide much-needed respite. From its humble beginnings in the Samuels’s Jerusalem apartment over 28 years ago, the organization has experienced exponential growth and achievement. Shalva’s transition into its new National Center, a state-of-the-art 11-story building marked Malki’s dream brought to fruition, the fulfillment of a promise she had made to Hashem. During the difficult and isolating days of Yossi’s early childhood, Malki promised to dedicate her life to helping other children with disabilities and their families if Yossi’s world of darkness and silence would ever be penetrated.
Yossi Samuels is a constant source of nachas to his parents, family, and anyone who has the privilege of meeting him. He has traveled the world — Switzerland, Thailand, and beyond — and has met with many celebrities and political dignitaries. “Yossi has been hosted by President George W. Bush and invited to Volvo of Switzerland,” Kalman says. “He is an accomplished horseback rider and a certified wine connoisseur and he is a political maven.”
Amiable and accomplished, Yossi Samuels is an ambitious young man who is able to achieve just about anything he sets his heart and mind to. His success is a testament to his parents’ love and perseverance.
The story is a remarkable one, offering an immersive portrait of both Israel and the state of disability care in the 1970s and 80s. Most touching are the sections focusing on Yossi, whom his father describes with great love. Those interested in the history and development of disability care will find this book particularly moving.
Rochelle Maruch Miller is a contributing editor for the Five Towns Jewish Times. She is a journalist, creative media consultant, lecturer, and educator, and writes for magazines, newspapers, websites, and private clients. She welcomes your comments at Rochellemiller04@aol.com.