Daniel Kugler, 26 years old, married to Miri and father of two adorable little girls
Residence: Old Beit Shemesh
Position at Ezrat Achim: Director of the teenage boys’ department in the Special Education department, and club coordinator for the past three years.
Before you took on this role, there was no teenage boys’ department?
Correct! All the programs at Ezrat Achim were run by women and female volunteers. Boys were only able to participate up to the age of 13. There was a lot of demand and great need in the community to have a center for the boys who were over bar mitzvah age.
They were looking for someone to create the program, and here I am!
We started with three boys and today there are fifteen. Significant steps are now being taken to expand into a new and larger facility so that more boys can come, in line with the increasing demand.
What does the boys’ department include?
A daily after school center, a Friday afternoon program, a Shabbos program, camp during summer vacations and on Chagim, programs on other days when school is closed (like Yom Ha’atzmaut, fast days etc.), and most importantly, a volunteer department!
Wow! Volunteers are so important! What do you think a young man who volunteers with special children can gain from the experience?
First of all, a lot of satisfaction. It’s amazing for a young person who has just started life to realize that he also has the opportunity to contribute to others and give of himself. We work hard to create a very positive atmosphere not only for the Special Needs boys, but for the volunteers as well- so much so that recently a lot of boys have been coming to us and asking to volunteer without us even having to ask! The volunteers really like to come, we make sure to show our appreciation, sometimes we take them on trips or hold special events and make sure to always give them positive feedback.
What do you enjoy the most about working with special children?
Going home, every day without exception, knowing that I have helped dozens of people, the boys themselves and also their parents and siblings who get attention at home while their special needs brother is in good hands for a few extra hours each day. For me, that is the best feeling in the world!
Do you have a special story that happened with one of the boys that you can share?
Yes, sure, there are so many!
Last year, one of the boys told me that he would bring mishloach manos on Purim but since I’m used to hearing the boys say things that are not always accurate, I didn’t take it seriously. On Purim at eight o’clock in the morning, there was a knock on my door and the boy and his father were there with a beautiful mishloach manos.
It turns out that he had overheard me speaking to my wife on the phone one day. I had told her that the siddur that I keep in my tefillin bag got torn and I needed to buy a new one.
The tzaddik remembered and surprised me with a leather siddur with my name engraved on it. I was really shocked!
How has the Corona crisis affected the center?
In the first wave, all the centers were closed. In conjunction with the Beit Shemesh Municipality, we were able to organize volunteers who were given transit permits that they could use during the lockdown. They assisted parents individually in homes, in gardens and parks.
Now we are working almost as usual, we just are much more careful about keeping all the rules regarding disinfection, division into small groups and a change in the daily schedule so that there will be no mixing between the groups. It’s not easy, but we know how to meet the challenges and overcome them B”H.
What is the most important message you want the residents of Beit Shemesh to know about ‘Ezrat Achim’?
The Special Education Division of Ezrat Achim is not just another program in Beit Shemesh … it is the heart of Beit Shemesh! These are all of our children!! They’re not just called special- they really are unique neshamos, and it is the responsibility of all of us to help them.