Tag Archives: israel

Double Challenge: Disabilities in Time of War

Friends,

I want to share with you this snapshot of the recent military conflict in Israel vis a vis people with disabilities.  It was sent to me and my wife Shira by Avital Sandler-Loeff, the Director of Israel Unlimited (a project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, our foundation, and the government of Israel).

–Jay Ruderman

Dear Jay and Shira,

I am writing to describe to you some of the activities undertaken on the ground by Israel Unlimited during the recent conflict with Hamas.

Toward the end of the conflict we learned that a 45-year-old woman who used a wheelchair (and had two daughters with schizophrenia) had been sleeping on the floor in the corridor for a week because she was afraid she would not be able to get out of bed on time during the sirens at night. She called our Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Beer Sheeva. Our volunteers from the CIL arranged a room for her and her daughters in Kibbutz Hagoshrim in the upper Galilee.  Soon she was able to get a good night’s sleep in a real bed.

Over the course of the conflict those of us from Israel Unlimited– with the help of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)– distributed 125 portable toilet kits, 300 first aid kits, and provided direct service to hundreds of people with disabilities in Beer Sheeva.  We worked with the emergency coordinator there and fifteen volunteers from Ben Gurion University. We were able to move almost 200 people with mental illness to more peaceful accommodations outside of the conflict region of Negev. Our coordinators in the affected communities in the Negev and the whole accessibility community worked around the clock. We checked people’s needs constantly and reacted very quickly.

Let us hope that the fire cease will continue to hold.

Avital

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Shabbat Matchmaking in Israel

Friends,

I wish all of our U.S. readers a very happy Thanksgiving. This post by Inbar’s Laurie Groner reminds us of how much we have to be thankful for today and every day– including those trailblazers who foster unexpected opportunities for friendship and love.

– Jay Ruderman

By Guest Blogger Laurie Groner, Director of Inbar

On a recent  Shabbat 40 young adults in Israel gathered for a singles Shabbaton (an event over the Sabbath).  This may not usually be newsworthy, but ours was a singles event with a difference: the participants were all young adults with disabilities. They came from around the country to the northern town of Nahariya (which has Israel’s only hotel with enough wheelchair-accessible rooms) hoping to find their bashert (soul mate).  The texts used in the workshops were printed in Braille and the sessions translated into sign language.

Making the Shabbat accessible and inclusive required incredible attention to logistics. But the payoff was fantastic! People left with new friends, phone numbers, and some with dates for the following week.  Everyone left with hope that their future could include a significant other.  In the words of Yosef, who had been shot in a terror attack: “I was overwhelmed by the intensity and caring — and by the quality of the workshops which combined Jewish values with our individual narratives. This Shabbat was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

This was the third annual singles Shabbat sponsored by Inbar, our organization dedicated to helping adults with disabilities navigate the road to marriage.  (Editor’s note: Zeh Lezeh followers may recall seeing the video from the first Inbar wedding a few months ago.)

Inbar was established by two Israeli friends in their late 30′s: one a computer scientist, married with children, and the other a rabbi born with severe cerebral palsy and living with the harsh reality that he might never marry or have children.

Our organization began with an email sent from one friend to another, looking to establish a social network for adults with disabilities. Within a week there were so many responses that the first meeting attracted more than 40 people from around Israel.

Inbar was operated by volunteers for three years until six months ago when the founders realized that the organization had outgrown its grassroots nature. We have registered as a non-profit and began fundraising to expand and professionalize.  So far all of the funding has come from individuals, most of whom have a friend or family member with a disability. The members of Inbar– having mastered the art of overcoming barriers– are confident that our organization will grow, make its mark on Israeli society, and become a model for programs around the world.

– Laurie Groner

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Another View of American Democracy: A Knesset Member Speaks Out

Dear Friends,

Today I share with you the second of two op-eds by members of the Israeli Knesset that appeared on JTA, the primary global news service of the Jewish community.

It may be surprising, at a time when many of us are tiring of election season, to hear about how our democracy is viewed by others.

-   Jay Ruderman

 Israel must Learn from American’s Unrelenting Self-Examination

By Raleb Majadele, deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of the Labor Party

Among the many strengths of Israel is its strong democratic tradition. Maintaining this tradition, however, seems to be more of a challenge with every passing year.

Perhaps my feeling is in part a result of a recent visit to the United States, where I witnessed the U.S. presidential election playing out in a demonstration of democracy that is particularly vibrant, robust and energetic.

Along with four other members of the Knesset, I visited the U.S. as a member of the Ruderman Fellows delegation, sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation, to promote greater understanding among Israel and the American Jewish community. Throughout many meetings in Boston and New York City that included a wide spectrum of Jewish community and public leaders, I was deeply impressed by the dynamics of an American democracy in which the diversity of opinion and culture is so embraced.

What also was instilled in me is that a primary component of American strength is the unrelenting self-examination and self-criticism to which it subjects itself. America is not afraid to confront its missteps and imperfections.

My visit to the United States was for me, an Arab citizen of Israel, a profound lesson in democracy. Democratic values are deeply rooted in American society, as well as in its Constitution, which guarantees the equal rights of minorities as a fundamental precept of American law.

Among American Jews I discovered a diverse and principled community representing a wealth of political opinions, religious streams and worldviews. I was moved by the passion and commitment evoked through points of both essential agreement and unbridled disagreement on political, social and strategic issues affecting not only the community but support for Israel as well.

We in Israel have much to learn from the American Jewish community in how to contend with our differences within a safe and respectful atmosphere. Stronger democracy is the cure to a weakening of unity within Israel — and a weakening of support for Israel from outside our country.

For sure, democracy in America is imperfect — and it has taken more than two centuries for it to achieve this level of imperfection. But the U.S. no doubt is a beacon and example of how to build and hold on to representative government. My Israel has much to learn.

 

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Our J-Post Op-Ed on Haredim Serving in the Israeli Army

Friends,

Yedidia Z. Stern, Vice-president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Plesner Committee for Equality in National Service, and I co-authored this recent Jerusalem Post Op-Ed suggesting some possible solutions to the challenges around haredim and military service in Israel. As always, I welcome your comments in the boxes provided below.

– Jay Ruderman

Guest Columnist: Haredim and the State of Israel

By Yedidia Z. Stern and Jay Ruderman

The most pressing social, political and religious issue in Israel this year has been the question of haredi service in the Israel Defense Forces. Although a wall-to-wall coalition was established to address this problem, a solution has yet to be found. Currently, unless a special legal arrangement is instituted, haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) are to be drafted like all other Jews in Israel.

If they are forced to serve, however, widespread civil disobedience is likely to emerge, further increasing the rift in society and possibly leading to a culture war. The most likely scenario is that the Knesset will try to arrive at a fair legal solution during its winter session.

This will require addressing the needs of three distinct parties: the general public, which is demanding equal military service; the haredim, who refuse to abandon their ethos of full-time Torah study for all; and the High Court of Justice, which will review every Knesset decision in this matter to determine whether it is sufficiently equitable.

Since Rosh Hashana marks a period of individual and national soul searching, this is an appropriate time to look past the details and focus on the big picture: Why don’t the haredim serve in the IDF? Can we accept their justifications? And, how is a state that is both Jewish and democratic to deal with this crisis? Let’s start with the facts: The haredi sector today accounts for about 10 percent of Israel’s population.

Its growth rate is phenomenal – more than 5% annually, compared with 1.8% for the general population, which can be seen from the fact that more than one-quarter of Jewish first graders in Israel are haredi. Obviously, any change in the nature of this sector will have a rapid and powerful effect on all of Israeli society.

Some 52,000 haredi men have declared that Torah study is their sole occupation and therefore have not served in the army. Since the law prohibits them from working, only 42% of haredi men are employed, compared with 80% for the general population.

The average income of a haredi household (NIS 6,100) is about half of the income of other households, and the poverty rate in the haredi sector is soaring to alarming heights (56%).

Experts, including the chairman of the National Economic Council (a division of the Prime Minister’s Office), have determined that the combination of accelerated growth and refusal to participate in the country’s society and economy is a recipe for disaster that may lead to economic collapse and may damage national security, as a weakened economy will not be able to support Israel’s security needs.

This leads to the sobering conclusion that the realization of the haredi ethos of full-time Torah study threatens the very survival of the Zionist enterprise.

Is this situation really necessary from a haredi perspective? Not necessarily. Haredim in Israel explain that they have sequestered themselves in yeshivot in order to fulfill the commandment to study the Torah “day and night.” Although they truly believe this explanation, it should not be accepted, as the haredi community in Israel can be contrasted with a “control group” of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States and Europe.

Many ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora conduct their lives differently from their Israeli counterparts.

After several years of yeshiva study, during which they consolidate their ultra-Orthodox identity, they learn a trade, join the local labor force, and support a “society of learners” – a small group of scholars funded by the community. Moreover, even in pre-Holocaust Europe, the Torah world did not advocate collective seclusion in yeshivot; most ultra-Orthodox joined the marketplace of life and only a select few – the most learned of all – adopted full-time Torah study as a way of life.

Thus, paradoxically, in the Diaspora, the home of the “Old Jews” who were looked down upon by Zionism, haredim chose to be productive and join the workforce; while in Israel, the birthplace of the “New Jews,” who control their own destiny, haredim isolate themselves and do not integrate into society and the economy.

It seems, then, that there was some kind of internal connection between the establishment of the State of Israel and the change in the haredi worldview, which now mandates a life of Torah study for all haredi men. What is the nature of this connection? The founders of political Zionism expected that the transition from an existence in spread-out communities to one in a sovereign state would unify a divided Jewish society and help it form one clearly defined national identity. In practice, however, the State of Israel did not solve the identity crisis; it intensified it. Although the state created a Jewish public sphere – comprising territory, politics, army and law – control of that space has been the central conflict between Jews in our generation.

David Ben-Gurion, for example, adopted the “melting pot” concept, and sought to imbue all Jews with a secular, nationalist, and socialist outlook.

Religious Zionism, in contrast, wants to run the state in accordance with its religious vision of redemption, which shapes its positions on the borders of the state, its attitude toward the judicial system, and more. But while secular and religious Zionists wish to control the entire public sphere, the haredim – at least so far – are interested only in their own small domain. In both Israel and the Diaspora, their efforts are directed at strengthening their own sector.

The nature of the challenge facing the haredi community, however, varies with location. In the Diaspora, haredim live in a non-Jewish state and society.

Consequently, it is relatively easy for them to be “a Jew at home, and a man on the street.”

In Israel, by contrast, their external environment is Jewish. Haredim, religious Jews and secular Jews all share a common destiny, both in their internal Israeli existence (e.g., Israeli politics) and vis-à-vis external factors (e.g., enemy states).

Paradoxically, this commonality among Jews is the greatest threat to haredi identity in Israel.

THE CRUX of the issue has nothing to do with Torah study but rather with apprehension about contact with Jews who have different identities. IDF conscription at a young age, for example, is liable to damage the unique identity of the next haredi generation.

The adrenalin of an 18-year-old haredi runs as high as that of his secular counterpart: driving a tank, jumping out of a plane and having unmediated contact with secular Jews in a pup tent is liable to change him.

Thus, it is in the Jewish state, where Jews are the proprietors rather than visitors, that haredim feel threatened and barricade themselves behind “walls of sanctity.” In contrast, in other countries, where the threat is distant and haredi identity is relatively secure, they function in the outside world.

This analysis yields guidelines for an appropriate solution. The majority of Israelis must recognize that the isolationism of the haredi community does not stem from a desire to be parasites or exploitative, but from a real identity crisis.

As a liberal state, Israel must respond to the needs of this culturally threatened minority and help it protect its identity. At the same time, however, the haredi minority must realize that its isolationism endangers the future of the state and cannot continue indefinitely.

In the coming year, the Knesset will have to formulate a new legal arrangement that strikes a delicate balance. It must include the following: (1) The Jewish state must recognize the value of Torah study. Accordingly, a small, spiritual and intellectual elite must be permitted to live as a “society of learners,” similar in size to parallel groups in the US and Europe.

(2) Most haredi men must serve in the IDF. This will fulfill their obligation to the future of the Jewish state and will open the gates of employment to them, enabling them to join the workforce and save their community from its abject poverty.

(3) The haredim must be able to maintain their identity despite their army service. For this reason, the state should allow haredim to be drafted at an older age – such as 22, when most are married with children – when their identities are firmly established.

Similarly, they must be offered terms of service that will allow them to maintain their identity.

Such service will be more costly and less efficient, but it is a necessary concession toward a minority group facing a crisis of identity. While full equality will not be achieved, the haredim will join all other Jews in Israel, both symbolically and in practice.

Yedidia Z. Stern is vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute and was a member of the Plesner Committee for Equality in National Service. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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Shalva’s Good Will Ambassadors for Disabilities

Dear Friends,
Each week we introduce you to another of the ten recipients of the 2012 Ruderman Prize in Disability.  They all illustrate innovative methods of breaking down the barriers between people with disabilities and their communities.  Today we present the fifth in our series of profiles.
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Shalva: The Center for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children and Their Families in Israel is one of the oldest disability organizations in the country.  Shalva’s mission, to connect children with disabilities (and their parents and siblings) with their communities in creative people-to-people ways, is accomplished through early intervention programs, camps, and educational opportunities, among other transformative initiatives.
Shalva’s “Special Interview Project” is the specific initiative we are recognizing with the Ruderman Prize.  It represents an innovative partnership between Shalva and YNet, Israel’s largest electronic news source.  In this project two young adults, one with Down syndrome and the other with an intellectual disability, travel the country (and more recently the United States) interviewing prominent men and women. In the process, Matanei Bitton and Efat Dotan have become something of celebrities themselves, engendering appreciation and acceptance wherever they go.
The Special Interview Project impressed our judges with the interviewers’ openness and warmth and the poignancy of their interviews with prominent Israelis. The impact such human interaction has on Israeli society is considerable, thanks to YNet’s popularity.
From all of us here at the Ruderman Family Foundation, congratulations to Shalva for their barrier-breaking work in Israeli journalism.
– Jay Ruderman

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Vertigo: The Power of an Inclusive Dance Company

Dear Friends,

Each week we introduce you to one of the ten recipients of the 2012 Ruderman Prize in Disability.  They each illustrate innovative methods of breaking down the barriers between people with disabilities and their communities.  Today we present the fourth in our series of profiles.

Vertigo Dance Company is an acclaimed Jerusalem-based dance company which performs in Israel and beyond.  Vertigo designed its Power of Balance program for professional dancers to develop a new, innovative language of movement together with their colleagues with disabilities.  The goal is to challenge stereotypes and prejudices in the community that limit the quality of life and inclusion into society of all people with disabilities.
The program has opened a new venue of expression for dancers with disabilities, providing them with renewed energy, increased self-esteem, and employment opportunities both as dancers and instructors.  Power of Balance has been performed in schools, community centers, and in local and international festivals.

Vertigo Dance Company stood out to our judges because they are a highly regarded dance company that includes people with mixed abilities in many of their activities. They recognize that dancers do not have to stand on legs or move with complete artistry to have grace and the power to communicate their reality to audiences of all ages and abilities.

From all of us here at the Ruderman Family Foundation, congratulations to the Vertigo Dance Company for their barrier-breaking work in the performing arts.

– Jay Ruderman

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Celebrating Inclusion in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)

Dear Friends,

As I have noted in this space, the Ruderman Family Foundation recently had the distinct pleasure of announcing the recipients of the 2012 Ruderman Prize in Disability.  More than 170 applicants represented a wide range of deserving organizations doing interesting and important work.  In their deliberations the judges returned repeatedly to the original goals for the Prize:  to support the pursuit of Excellence and Innovation, in services, advocacy and support of Jews with disabilities worldwide.  Today we present the second in a series of Zeh Lezeh blogs spotlighting each of the ten recipients in turn.

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AKIM Israel has been dedicated to enabling Israel’s people with intellectual disabilities to live full and meaningful lives since 1951. Comprehensive programming includes assistance and support for families, support for the exercise of legal entitlements, housing assistance, inclusion into fair employment, and enrichment of leisure activities, self-expression and creativity.

All of these activities are laudatory; however, the Ruderman prize judges have recognized AKIM specifically for its groundbreaking work on inclusion in the Israel Defense Forces. Unlike for American youth, for most young Israelis service in the IDF is a normal part of life in the years between high school and college. Service becomes a core rite of passage in Israeli society and an empowering, transformative experience. AKIM is working now to make that experience open to people with intellectual disabilities, enabling them to perform significant supportive and productive tasks as part of IDF service. This project works with both the individual and the rest of the military unit to maximize adjustment and success.

AKIM staff believe that service in the IDF could be one of the first fully inclusive experiences that these soldiers will have, many after eighteen years of social marginalization.  Ultimately, inclusive IDF service will instill a sense of achievement and pride in all people with intellectual disabilities in Israel.

As one of our judges remarked, “While AKIM is already recognized as among the leading organizations that works with and on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities in Israel, our panel of judges wanted especially to recognize their program to include young adults with disabilities in the IDF and military service. This service is a core value of Israel society and we salute AKIM in promoting this full inclusion.”

Please join me in congratulating AKIM Israel for their groundbreaking work!

– Jay Ruderman

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Love: The Universal Language

Dear Friends,

Every once in a while you encounter something so moving it that transcends nationality, ability and language. This video is such an experience. It was recorded in Hebrew but needs no translation.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we have.

– Jay Ruderman

 

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Krembo Wings Youth Group: Fun and So Much More

By Guest Blogger Lior Reicheart, Student and Krembo Wings Adult Coordinator

Hello, I am 26 and this year I am finishing up my undergraduate studies in law and political science, thanks in great part to my Ruderman Family Foundation scholarship.

Last summer, after my third year of college, I heard about Krembo Wings, the only youth movement in the world for children with special needs. During the summer, I was able to participate in the establishment of the movement’s 16th branch in Central Tel Aviv, where I volunteer as an adult coordinator for the program. We are all proud to report that today, after only four months and with the help of the Ruderman Family Foundation, the branch is home to 17 participants and 40 instructors.

What first attracted me to Krembo Wings was its broad circles of social impact. First of all, it gives access to informal social interactions for children with special needs, who tend to spend most of their time either at school or at home; Krembo Wings gives them an opportunity to take part in extracurricular social activities, just like other kids.

I’ve also been able to develop relationships with the members’ families, who dearly appreciate the fact that now they can enjoy several hours of peace and quiet every week, knowing their child is in safe, loving hands. Finally, their activity in Krembo Wings gives our teenage volunteers the opportunity to interact with a special population they would not normally meet – and a chance to practice management, program development, goal setting and teamwork.

But best of all is the fact that Krembo Wings’ activities are shared by children and teenagers with and without special needs  – which is going to have a long-term effect on the social integration of people with disabilities and special needs.

Here’s what Noa, the mother of a girl in my branch, says: “I think that more than anything else, Krembo Wings gives me hope that perhaps one day I will not be so worried about the day I will no longer be available for her because there will be other people who will see to it that life will be better and easier for her. For me, this is one of the most magical things about Krembo Wings, the fact that through fun activities, the children feel part of something that belongs just to them, and what the teenage volunteers are learning from them will change the future.”

– Lior Reicheart

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Diaspora, What Diaspora? World Jewry Off Israeli Media Radar

Jay Ruderman

This past week the Jerusalam Post ran a column by Michael Freund that struck a chord with me and I’m certain, with other American-born Israelis as well.  Here Freund makes a bold statement: “ Leafing through the daily Hebrew newspapers or watching the evening news, it is easy to forget that there is a big, wide Jewish world out there.”

The point is well-taken. The Israeli media seems to believe that Diaspora Jewry either doesn’t exist or  lives in a realm that’s both distant and without much of an impact on Israelis.

As recent history reflects, nothing could be further from the truth.  Without the devotion and determination of world Jewry, there would be no Jewish state today.  What’s more, the current seismic shifts in national allegiances demonstrate clearly that our communities on both sides of the ocean will need to understand and support each other to secure a Jewish future for our children and grandchildren.  Like Freund, we maintain that “our future as a nation is linked to the immutable relationship that exists between Israel and Jews abroad.”

This is the guiding principle behind Ruderman Fellows, a program sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation in cooperation with Brandeis University. Each spring, we bring members of the Knesset to the United States to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of American Jews, their experiences, values and priorities.

This program changes minds and hearts. It also echoes Freund’s conclusion: “… unless we actively nurture our connection, learning more about one another, we run the risk of drifting apart. And that must not be allowed to happen.”

– Jay Ruderman

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