By Jay Ruderman
The Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Jerusalem is home to a wide menu of services, all of them share a single vision: to help people with disabilities achieve true independence.
And one of the ways they manage to achieve this is by turning their clients into volunteers and leaders. In fact, the first thing the visitor notices, even before the wheelchairs and walkers, is that there’s no distinction between the leaders and the clients. Everyone here both gives and receives support.
Established by Disabled Now Organization, and JDC-Israel, the Jerusalem Center is one of the 6 CILs launched by Israel Unlimited – the strategic partnership of the Government of Israel, JDC-Israel and the Ruderman Family Foundation – across Israel. And here you’ll find such ongoing efforts to increase independence and build for the future as classes in computers along with those in gardening, drama and swim lessons (the pool is outfitted with a swing enabling people in wheelchairs to get in and out of the water with support) and a program to promote healthy living. In addition, our Foundation funds a popular program that you may recall reading about in an earlier blog posting, one designed to encourage and facilitate romantic relationships for people with disabilities, which also holds classes here. The emphasis is on developing social and relationship-building skills that invite healthy bonds with a significant other.
While there, we met some inspiring individuals, including:
Haftama who developed severe leg pains shortly after arriving from Ethiopia, resulting in a series of four surgeries and losing her ability to walk. She has two children and a dream of going to college someday. “This is a place where people start to dream,” she said.
Mark who walked into the Center after he was diagnosed with a neurological disability. “I wanted to see how others dealt with what I was dealing with,” he says.
Liat who was 12 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now 26, she uses a walker and has just graduated from a religious college. “My dream is to become bigger in mind, in my horizons and satisfactions,” she said. “And we have to remember we’re not here to be a community just in ourselves but to be part of things, to really be integrated into our communities.”
Zenab, an Arab woman who survived polio and enjoys the classes here yet dreams with her friends of someday having a class in Arabic that teaches computer use.
Shula who, between joking with Mark about a closely guarded secret: the costumes they planned to wear to the Center’s upcoming Purim party, said, “You can’t usually tell when someone has bipolar disorder. The medications I’m on keep me pretty balanced but we still have a lot to do to lower the stigma of mental illness.” Some 10 percent of Center members have mental illnesses.
But the backbone of the Center just may be the peer-counseling program, says Director Henia Schwartz, one that is open to people with disabilities in Jerusalem and outlying towns as well as their families. “Every time I’m able to help someone feel less alone and be able to fight for their rights, I also grow stronger,” says Kohava, who uses a wheelchair. “By helping each other, we are strengthening ourselves too.”
— Jay Ruderman