by Avery Simon

Last Thursday night, while most Niviimers were asleep, Cabin D’s beds were empty. Why, you may ask? Because here at camp sometimes amazing opportunities call for a delay in bedtime.

At camp, we have incredible faculty members who come and teach our kids all kinds of life lessons. Some are Rabbis, some are Jewish Educators, and all are avid camp lovers.

My campers were lucky enough to interact with a man named Matan Koch. Matan is a speaker, educator and consultant, who has spent his lifetime working to help others promote the universal inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

Matan is unique in many different ways – he speaks with passion and knowledge, often from his own experiences.  Matan Koch is also physically unable to walk. However, last week my girls were able to see him fly.

Matan Koch is a very accomplished man. He travels around the country giving speeches and workshops, attempting to “Ignite a Fire for Universal Inclusion.” The whole idea is that anyone can participate fully in life, no matter their ability.

Matan put this theory to the test with my Niviimers. While my girls were rock wall climbing and swinging on the swing, Matan arrived. The ropes course team set to work on harnessing him. He kept his cool through the whole process as he was lifted , always with a smile on his face even in moments of discomfort.

The original plan for the night was for my girls to go to bed after they had all climbed the wall. But as the girls went to grab their hats and water bottles, they were intrigued by the scene that was unfolding in front of us.

Matan, fully strapped into his harness, was helped out of his wheel chair and lifted up by the swing apparatus. The bunk next door to us, D2, patiently waited for the cue to pull the rope to lift him higher into the air.

“What’s his name?” one of my campers asked. “Matan,” I replied. Soon she started cheering, “Go Matan! You can do it!” All the girls followed, and the ropes course echoed with cheers from my Niviim girls.

As he reached the top of the swing, the course became silent. Matan then cued the release and began to fly.

Instantly R. Kelly poured out of me and “I Believe I Can Fly” echoed from the mouths of everyone in the area, including Matan’s. He really was flying.

Two of my girls came up to me crying. I asked why. They explained to me that he is stuck in a chair all day and that it must be the best feeling in the world to feel like you can fly. In that moment my girls learned about an important value that no one is born with – my girls learned empathy.

They put themselves in Matan’s shoes and recognized his hardships, but saw that he was capable of participating fully in ropes course activities just like they could. They understood that what Matan just accomplished was not easy. What he was able to do was in part from the help of all the ropes staff there, but also my girls encouragement.

So yes, my girls went to bed later than they should. But they also just experienced something that gave them a greater understanding of an important value many do not learn today. Being able to empathize with others allows for acceptances of all people, no matter the ability.

Not to reference R. Kelly too much in one blog but it’s a remix to ignition: in a turn of events from just a normal day at high ropes, Matan ignited a fire for inclusion in Cabin D.

Avery Simon is a first year counselor, working with our Niviim unit this session. She will be attending University of Oklahoma in the fall.