Israel Unlimited: The Partnership That’s Transforming and Healing Lives in Israel

Guest blogger Steve Schwager, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)

JDC’s worldwide programs for Jews with disabilities demonstrate our commitment to the principal of areivut—the notion that we are truly responsible for improving the quality of life for all Jews, including those who are disabled.

In 2009, Israel Unlimited was launched as a strategic partnership of JDC, the Government of Israel, and the Ruderman Family Foundation. Israel Unlimited is the first comprehensive partnership between government and private philanthropy in Israeli history that empowers the disabled and is trying to meet the needs of Israel’s 700,000 adults with disabilities.

Israel Unlimited works to advance independent living and the integration of Israelis with disabilities into mainstream society. In its first two years, Israel Unlimited developed programs for over 11,000 adults with disabilities. Four new Centers for Independent Living—community-based multi-service centers run by the disabled with services for the disabled—have been opened, in addition to the two previously established. These six centers are now serving 6,000 disabled Israelis who were not previously receiving services. Over 300 people with mental illnesses have joined the Supportive Community program, a model of care that empowers disabled people to live independently in their homes, with complete support and an array of services to help them carry out daily tasks and cope with emergencies. More than 1,000 Israeli parents with disabilities and about 1,000 immigrants with disabilities are receiving these new services and being trained to empower themselves.

One such individual is Misha (a pseudonym), age 43, who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union with his wife and children eight months ago and is considered “high risk” due to two disabilities. First, he faces the challenge of being an immigrant; second, Misha suffers from inflammation of the joints and finds walking difficult without the use of a cane.

When Misha first arrived, he sat at home doing nothing; lonely and frustrated, he felt powerless to help his family. Then a friend told him about a program he heard about on the Russian-language radio station—a program for new immigrants with disabilities developed by JDC’s Israel Unlimited.

Today, Misha is learning Hebrew at an Accessible Hebrew Ulpan in Haifa’s Center for Independent Living, and he participates fully in the program’s cultural activities. In fact, Misha has become the program’s events photographer and his photos appear on the Center’s website and Facebook page! Misha says that participating in the program helped him make new friends, and he hopes his Hebrew studies will help him find employment in his profession as a computer engineer.

Irv and I wish to recognize and thank JDC Board member Jay Ruderman and the Ruderman family for their dedicated efforts in helping people with disabilities … so that Misha and hundreds of thousands like him can be fully empowered members of their society and live proud and productive lives.

  — Steve Schwager

To access full report, click here. 

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