It takes a villageIt takes a village

Little Chanel’s happiest birthday ever

How an autistic seven-year-old from the desert town of Sderot taught Israelis the value of a smile

Chanel Efraimov of Sderot. (Screenshot/Channel 1)
Chanel Efraimov of Sderot. (Screenshot/Channel 1)

It’s a heartwarming story of a community coming out in force to put a smile on a seven-year-old girl’s face.

Chanel Efraimov, from the southern town of Sderot, is on the autism spectrum. Her seventh birthday this week was all set to be a happy day.

“I finished the preparations. The tables were set, everything was very beautiful, colorful. We waited for the [other] children, but no one knocked at the door,” Tehila Efraimov, Chanel’s mother, explained in a Channel 1 television report earlier this week.

“I sent personal texts to every parent [in her class, asking], ‘Please come make my girl happy.’ An hour and a half before [the scheduled start of the party], I started getting messages back. ‘I can’t come,’ and other kinds of cancellations,” Tehila recalled.

Tehila Efraimov of Sderot. (screenshot/Channel 1)
Tehila Efraimov of Sderot. (screenshot/Channel 1)

So she went online and posted a photo of little Chanel in her new birthday dress sitting alone on a swing in their empty yard, and invited the whole community to help her make Chanel happy.

“Come celebrate with my daughter the happiest day of her life. no presents needed,” Tehila’s heartfelt message read.

She couldn’t have imagined the response.

The post went viral in the small Negev town.

“One child came, another two, another ten children. Suddenly we had 20 people, 50 people. We didn’t have room in the house!” she said.

By the party’s end, an estimated 1,500 locals, adults and children alike, had answered the call. Some came wearing full-body animal costumes, others in clown regalia. Hundreds of gifts stood stacked against the walls of the house. A video from the party showed the crowd lifting Chanel up in a chair and her surprised smile at all the attention.

Chanel Efraimov at her birthday party, June 2015. (screenshot/Channel 1)
Chanel Efraimov at her birthday party, June 2015. (screenshot/Channel 1)

And before the party was over, as word spread through the town, Chanel’s missing classmates started arriving too.

Autism, Tehila reflected to Channel 1’s Itzik Zuaretz, “is not a contagious disease. They’re amazing children. Children on the spectrum, like normative children, don’t deserve to spend their birthdays alone.”

The city of Sderot, at any rate, agrees.

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