Strength and weakness are measured by how a society’s vulnerable members are treated. February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, raising awareness of people with special needs.
We are honored to introduce Dr. Adrienne Matros, Jewish National Fund USA (JNF) Orange County’s Co-President, a pillar of the community and a prominent activist.
Dr. Matros has been a resident of Orange County’s Newport Coast for 21 years. She is a clinical psychologist by profession, and her main passion is serving as an advocate for Israel and for people with special needs. Her efforts are both philanthropic and as a volunteer who serves on the boards of six nonprofit organizations.
Dr. Matros and her husband Richard are proud parents of seven children–four of whom are adopted and grandparents to 13 grandchildren.
Adrienne: ”When I was in college, I pursued a degree in psychology and was always passionate and determined to work in that field. Back then, I was eager to secure a job that would help fund my education while supporting my goals.
“I started working at Hope House for the Multiple-Handicapped. In 1982, people with autism were simply referred to as autistic. Today, the spectrum for autism is a lot more defined and assessed in four different stages.
“During my time there, I had the privilege of meeting Ahmad Olerzi–a 3-year-old boy whose father was the Prince of Saudi Arabia. The 1980’s were a difficult time for children born with any type of disability. Families were ashamed and the children were sometimes disposed of.
“Ahmad survived because his father moved him to California. The family placed him in a reputable facility, which is how he made his way into our lives.
“Over Christmas, children were invited into families’ homes and I brought Ahmad to my parents.
“They immediately fell in love and had a special bond with him. He started learning sign language. We were able to communicate better and he spent many weekends with us.
“One day, my parents told me that they wanted Ahmad to move in with us. I was very attached to him by then and with an arrangement with the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Los Angeles, Ahmad moved in with us officially for five years. I was 21 years old, and he became like a little brother to me.
“Later, we received notice that Ahmad’s father was coming to visit. He traveled from Saudi Arabia accompanied by a large delegation. They brought my parents gifts and thanked them for all they did.
“They left to go out for lunch, disappeared and we have not seen Ahmad since. My parents were heartbroken. They had people search for him in California and Saudi Arabia, but we never found him.”
What do you think happened to Ahmad?
“He must have been taken back to Saudi Arabia. We were never able to get ahold of his father. I am not certain what the political climate was like in 1988, or what the laws and regulations pertaining to children with disabilities are today–but I pray that nothing bad happened to him.”
Meeting Major General (Res.) Doron Almog who was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement in 2016, and was a social activist for people with disabilities also had a big impact on Dr. Matros.
Adrienne: ”Doron Almog is an amazing person. He introduced me to ADI Negev–Nahalat Eran–a rehabilitation village in southern Israel for children and adults with a wide range of severe medical disabilities. Doron brought me on board as a volunteer consultant because of my extensive experience and my time there was extremely eye-opening. I felt they did not need my help, but rather, helped me see the growing potential for these children.
“Until that point, I was under the impression that the only way to help children with special needs was to care for them in a home environment. However, through ADI Negev, I learned that this beautiful village with their expert team of medical professionals, are guided by empathy and love and can provide a more conducive way to create a brighter future for these individuals.”
JNF USA partners with ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village. I understand you traveled to Israel and visited several times. What insights, if any, did you bring from there?
Adrienne: “I witnessed the impact of JNF USA’s work first-hand and the role they play in becoming an integral part of the village. You really feel the love, compassion and care given to all. They love the children as if they were their own and truly succeed in creating an environment that emphasizes a world of possibilities and encourages people with special needs to embrace who they are.
“I realized that we have a lot to learn from Israel regarding how the country treats its most vulnerable members of society. Doron said: ‘We are only as strong as the weakest members of our society.’ My goal is to bring this statement to light here. I’m proud to announce that we will also be including athletes with special needs in the next Maccabi games that are set to take place in San Diego.”
An avid supporter of Israel, Dr. Matros’ husband, Richard, is the CEO of Sabra Health Care REIT and serves on the boards of AIPAC and IsraAID and is actively involved in various other humanitarian efforts as well.
As part of its focus on improving the quality of life in Israel for everyone and ensuring that no member of Israeli society is left behind, JNF USA provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education, job skills, therapy and medical care for people with special needs through its affiliate organizations in Israel.
From LOTEM, the largest organization for outdoor learning activities serving over 100,000 people annually to the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, a therapeutic horseback riding facility which serves 10,000 children and adults in the south to its “Special in Uniform” program, where 900 young men and women with disabilities have served in the IDF. They learn life lessons, make friends, build character and develop job skills while doing purposeful work to help defend Israel.
Jewish National Fund USA’s strategic vision has always been to ensure a strong and secure future for Israel. JNF USA boosts tourism, supports Aliyah, builds medical and trauma centers, funds agricultural and culinary research, provides arts and entertainment to the communities in the frontiers, runs the Alexander Muss High School in Israel amongst its many initiatives.
National Campaign Director Sharon Joy said: “2021 was our most successful year, raising $120 million. And in order to support Dr. Matros and her co-president Warren Morten, we are hiring a director to join our JNF USA family to oversee Orange County.
For more information, visit www.JNF.org
*Translated by Yael Sasonov
Elad Massuri is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.