Tag Archives: disabilities advocacy

Fostering a Self-Advocacy Movement for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel


Today I’m happy to share information about a wonderful project to develop leadership skills among self-advocates in Israel.

As you see, “Nothing About Us Without Us” is not only a rallying cry but also a clear direction for how best to move ahead.

What does it mean to you?

–Jay Ruderman

Fostering a Self-Advocacy Movement for People with Intellectual Disabilities in Israel

By Jean Judes, Executive Director, Beit Issie Shapiro; and David B. Marcu, CEO, Israel Elwyn

The human rights approach to disabilities shapes the piercing social message of “nothing about us without us”.  This message can raise the awareness of people with diverse disabilities, including people with intellectual disabilities, to their right to be involved in making decisions concerning all aspects of their life.  Unfortunately the actualization of this basic human right is severely lacking in most people’s day-to-day reality.  People with disabilities have been discriminated against for centuries and they have not had access to civic and political participation.  This is particularly prevalent for people with intellectual disabilities.

As a result of this injustice, a groundbreaking partnership between Israel Elwyn and Beit Issie Shapiro was created to help foster community advocacy groups for people with intellectual disabilities in Israel.  We provide the conditions, tools and accessible information necessary so that people with intellectual disabilities can be represented and heard by their immediate environment and by policy makers.  The goal is to develop grass roots leadership amongst people with intellectual disabilities and to allow for the emerging of authentic voices for this group.

Our partnership started with no experience or models in Israel from which to learn. Luckily, we have had the privilege to enter a dialogue with professionals and people with intellectual disabilities in the USA and to get a head start on this work.  People with intellectual disabilities have taught us so much and we are humbled by how well they are learning how to make their own voices heard and how to work as a group in order to impact on their environment.

Five advocacy groups have formed in Jerusalem, Be’er Sheba and the Sharon region.  Each self-advocacy group is supported by an “enabler” whose role is to help facilitate the group members to independent action and the self-management of the group. The enabler makes information accessible, aids in applying various skills and promotes opportunities for individual growth[JJ1] [JJ2]  and development. Over time, each group appoints members to various roles, such as a group leader and secretary. The enabler helps the group leader – again, a person with intellectual disabilities – to develop as a leader and to perform his or her role as well as possible.

In group meetings, the members discuss the issues that bother them in their daily lives: employment, the way they are treated by those around them, making various services accessible, quality of life at their supported living service, etc. Together they identify critical life issues and those issues where they would like to make a change. They learn to work together to achieve that change.

This unique partnership between two agencies attempting to promote an important social change and enhance quality of life for persons with disabilities has been made possible by the support of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles.

It is our belief as agencies that “nothing about us without us” is not a cliché but a goal that can be accomplished if we believe in the power of people empowering themselves.  Working together will strengthen each of our agencies, the persons with disabilities we support and society-at-large.

David B. Marcu is the CEO of Israel Elwyn, an organization that provides support services for children and adults with disabilities and their families. 

Jean Judes is the CEO of Beit Issie Shapiro, an organization committed to social change in Israel for people with disabilities.



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Just the Beginning


Many of my Christian friends tell me they are struggling to enjoy the Christmas season this year because the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut are still so fresh in all our minds. This is one among many outcomes of this horrifying event, and I believe there will be countless more outcomes over the coming months and years.  It is too early to know exactly how this event will change U.S. society, but it will be changed– much in the way 9/11 changed us collectively, forever.

Those of us who advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities of all kinds are watching the situation closely to guard against any kind of backlash, and to be sure all future policy actions are based on thoughtful reliance on evidence rather than knee-jerk reactions based on fear and prejudice.

As my colleague Jo Ann Simons notes below, we are just beginning this conversation on what we have learned from Newtown and where to go from here.  I think her recent piece is worth revisiting on Christmas Eve, a time when Christians mark an important new beginning in their faith.

All of us at the Ruderman Family Foundation wish our Christian friends a Merry Christmas, hoping you can experience moments of peace and even joy during this holiday season.

–Jay Ruderman

Forced to Listen

By Jo Ann Simons, Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation; President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

The television at my home– and in homes throughout the world– has been tuned into the nonstop coverage of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.  I feel it is my duty to listen to the news of the latest investigation of this horrific crime and watch the tributes to the victims. Somehow I feel like I am paying my respects, but mostly I am trying to comfort myself. I am trying to make sense of the senseless. I am trying to convince myself that my children are safe, our students and clients are safe, I am safe, and my country is safe. I am rationalizing that the likelihood of this kind of horrific crime occurring again is unlikely.

I am kidding myself. These kind of mass shootings are becoming more frequent and yet we have done nothing to reduce the availability of automatic weapons.

But this time something has happened. We have begun a discussion about mental illness, Asperger’s and autism. It has been thoughtful and meaningful. The world is learning what we already know: people with autism and Asperger’s are not prone to violence. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, present from childhood.  People with diagnoses on what is called the “autism spectrum” demonstrate compassion and empathy. They are wonderful sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  They live, play, learn and work successfully among us. In fact, one of the Sandy Hook children had autism and she was slaughtered with her aide and special education teacher.

We have also learned that mental illness usually develops in the late teen or early adult years, although it sometimes appears in childhood.  Societal stigmas and the gaping lack of services make it difficult to identify and even more difficult to treat. Families feel hopeless and desperate and are often forced to turn to the only remedy available: the criminal justice system.  In this system mental illness typically goes undiagnosed and almost always untreated.

A national discussion has begun and people who have never been part of it before are showing up to educate us.  Doctors Sanjay Gupta and Mehmet Oz have begun teaching us about the minds of people with mental illness and about distinguishing mental illness from autism. They and many others are calling out for a better mental health system.

Are we listening?

–Jo Ann Simons

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Unforgettable Summertime Shabbat: An Inclusive Prayer Service at Ramah


As the days shorten and we move toward the darkest time of year, I want to share with you a summer memory from one of the summer staff at Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program in Wisconsin. Such tales of true inclusion move us deeply, all year long.

–Jay Ruderman

By Guest Blogger Daniel Olson, 2012 Rosh Atzmayim (Vocational Program Director) at Camp Ramah, Wisconsin

It’s a rainy Friday night in July at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. The Tikvah group, teens in Ramah’s disabilities program, and Atzmayim, a college-age group with disabilities, were leading Friday night services together for the whole camp. What transpired was a prayer experience that no one present would soon forget.

The kehilla (community) grew silent as Ari– a Tikvah camper for four years and an Atzmayim participant for two — stood up to speak about his growth at camp. Ari reflected on the large circle of people who have been part of his life. He spoke of his counselors, the friends he’d made in Tikvah and Atzmayim, and the campers who volunteer each summer as inclusion buddies, spending significant time with Tikvah friends. During the speech, he invited anyone who had ever been a part of this circle to rise. Half of the room rose to its feet. He thanked everyone present for helping to shape the lives of all the campers with disabilities who come to Ramah. Now, everyone in the room was on their feet, applauding, moved by Ari’s powerful words.

But what happened next was even more moving.

Before Tyler — a second-year Atzmayim participant — began the early evening service, he covered his eyes with his prayer shawl and said the proper blessing. Many members of the kehilla may have questioned why he would need to cover his eyes. After all, Tyler is blind.  As leader of the service, though, he knew his responsibilities and his respect for tradition was clear. Tyler is also deaf, and wears two cochlear implants, which allow him to hear. So while Tyler’s tunes may have been unconventional, they were charged by a deep love and appreciation for Jewish ritual. As his index finger flew across the pages of his Braille prayer book, he demonstrated intense and meaningful kavana (focus and religious intention).

Members of the community could not contain their emotion when Tyler finished. Some were sure they felt the shekhina (divine presence) in the room. Others said they had not felt as close to G-d in a long time. One Israeli staff member wants to use Tyler’s praying as an example at home, to show that Jews with disabilities can participate in religious life and take on leadership roles. Indeed, thanks to Tikvah, that Friday night service was one of the most meaningful religious moments those of us in camp had ever experienced.

— Daniel Olson


Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Initiatives, Uncategorized

Being in Two Places at Once: Our Foundation’s Challenge and Advantage


I’m writing to share an op-ed I wrote this week for ejewishphilanthropy.com.  I have been reflecting on why — even with the logistical difficulties of running a foundation with offices thousands of miles apart — the strategic advantages to having a dual presence far outweigh the challenges.

As always, I welcome your comments.

— Jay

Being in Two Places at Once

by Jay Ruderman

There’s an old Yiddish expression that says you can’t have “ein tuchus oft da ganze velt” or, simply put, you can’t be all over the place at once.

But like many foundations today, our agenda transcends nations. We work toward the goal of full inclusion for Jews with disabilities wherever they may live and we also seek to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Jewish community in the United States.

Unlike many foundations, however, we felt we could not be fully effective at this work without a physical presence in both Israel and in the U.S. Our foundation is one of the few to have its principal decision maker live in Israel, while keeping the organization headquartered in the U.S. This unusual arrangement has given us a broader perspective from which our organization and those we serve truly benefit. It has also given us the opportunity to be a peer-to-peer resource for other funders in both the U.S. and Israel.

There are times that the increased coordination required by this arrangement is challenging. But the advantage of having feet on the ground in both places, and the additional involvement with grantee programs that it provides, cannot be measured. We believe that our twin locations provide us with a distinct perspective on philanthropy. Being in two far-away places at one time truly lets us understand the special and unique relationship between Israel and the U.S. Jewish community and how to most effectively pursue our foundation and program goals.

Looking back to Israel’s failed ad campaign in 2011 to woo expatriates to return home, we had a unique vantage point. We could both see the particular forces in Israel that led to the development of the campaign and better understand why it was so poorly received among American Jews.

More recently, during the military conflict with Hamas, we were able to provide our partners in the U.S. with a first-hand account of what it was like in Israel living beneath the thunder of the Iron Dome explosions, as Israeli anti-missile defenses collided with incoming rockets from Hamas, and also report to the public about how Israelis with disabilities were adversely impacted by a shortage of services during the crisis.

Such a perspective is helpful in an environment where major Israeli philanthropists tend not to fund programs outside of Israel. At the same time, many American foundations that fund programs in Israel do not have offices and staff here, even if they visit frequently.

The fact that I choose to live in Israel makes a statement to our board and partners that our foundation understands how Israeli civil society operates. It would be hard for our foundation to be as effective without this structure, in the same way that it would be hard for a newspaper to report on a community if it did not have a presence there.

Similarly, our Ruderman Fellows program, which brings Members of the Knesset to the U.S. so that they can learn more about the Jewish community in the U.S., benefits from our presence in both places. By being located in Israel we are able to directly recruit Members of the Knesset for the program and our operation in the U.S. is able to design the right experience for the participants as well as handle the thousands of details that make these trips a success.

The power of a dual or multi-location operation for foundations should not be underestimated today. In a world where information, influence, and contacts defy boundaries, the strategic advantage of being in two places at once often translates into the greater fulfillment of goals and the coalescing of mission.

Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.  For more on this topic, please follow Zeh Lezeh, the Ruderman Family Foundation’s blog.

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Filed under In the Media, Initiatives, Israel Diaspora Understanding, Philanthropy trends, Uncategorized

Kelim Shloovim: The Shopping Experience That Gives as Well as Gets


Today I’m happy to introduce you to an innovative employment initiative in Israel. Recently Shikum Acher opened a gift shop on one of Tel Aviv’s most fashionable shopping districts. The shop is staffed by people with disabilities and markets high-end products made by people with disabilities. Shikum Acher’s store not only represents a successful employment model but also demonstrates inclusion to the public every day.

— Jay Ruderman

By Guest Blogger Michal Topaz, Executive Director & Founder of Shikum Acher

Eight years ago, while I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I volunteered at the Geha Psychiatric Hospital. I was exposed for the first time to people with mental illness as well as the widespread social stigma they must contend with. As a result I established Shikum Acher, a non-profit committed to developing progressive employment opportunities for people with mental health issues. The success of Shikum Acher motivated me to open Kelim Shloovim, a new store in central Tel Aviv operated by our clients.  It sells products from our factory, other non-profits, and numerous young Israeli designers. This is a new and innovative project that we hope will inspire similar initiatives in the future.

Shikum Acher’s store simultaneously increases the general public’s involvement with and awareness of the disability community. It serves as a social business initiative, providing respected and meaningful employment for members of that community– while reinvesting its profits into Shikum Acher programming. Working in the store better prepares people to work in the free market.

Kelim Shloovim is an extension of our website by the same name (www.kelimshloovim.org.il), and is a physical space in central Tel Aviv. The store is located on Dizengoff Street, one of Tel Aviv’s most popular shopping locations. It showcases the abilities of our constituents to create quality products and to run the store professionally.

The store constitutes a regular, mainstream job and steady source of income for individuals with mental illness, who have difficulty finding employment elsewhere. This framework of a non-stigmatized workplace that advocates integration and inclusion is known as a “social firm” and has been a successful model in other countries.

Tomer, one of Kelim Shloovim’s shift managers, has diagnoses of depression and borderline personality disorder. He commented, “Working here and being able to immerse myself in day-to-day tasks helps me maintain equilibrium, fills me with pride, and is helping me integrate back into society.”

Opening our beautiful new store has provided Shikum Acher the opportunity to multiply the positive impacts we have on the disability community and on Israeli society as a whole.

Visit Kelim Shloovin online at www.kelimshloovim.org.il, or in Tel Aviv at 229 Dizengoff Street.

— Michal Topaz

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Did High Expectations Begin with the Maccabees?

By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers

With Hanukkah approaching, I can relax knowing that my shopping is complete, my candles have been purchased, and the chanukiahs (menorahs) are cleaned and waiting to be lit. So I have had time to reflect on the miracle of the holiday.

Is it possible that the high expectations we have for ourselves and for our children began with the dedication of the Holy Temple and the victory over tyranny? I like to think that although there was only enough oil for one night, there were believers among the Maccabees who knew that more was possible from the oil. When the sacred oil lasted eight nights instead of one, did we learn that setting high expectations might be the best route to success?

I think so.  And I believe that we in the Jewish community, as in the larger U.S. society, are finally applying that principle of high expectations to people with disabilities.

For too long U.S. society has acted as though, as far as people with disabilities were concerned, the oil would only last one night. So that’s all we expected.  We built inhumane institutions and filled them, we provided inadequate medical care and little if any dental care, we segregated children into separate schools and apart from their siblings, we built “special” swimming pools and recreational facilities, and we operated “sheltered” training sites while providing little in the way of employment opportunities.

But there were believers among us who envisioned a different world. Led by people with disabilities and their families, these modern-day Maccabees believed in the light and set high expectations. They have shown us that people with disabilities can lead completely inclusive lives.

So, as we strike the match to light our chanukiah, let those candles be our call to action. Let us end the tyranny against people with disabilities. Let us empty our institutions. Let us build community living options. Let us train more medical professionals. Let us provide access to health and dental care. Let us end segregated education and include children in typical schools. Let us promote the success of inclusive post-secondary education and make community based employment available to all who want to work.

This year I will recite the traditional Hanukkah prayers, and in addition each candle will symbolize a basic human longing of people with disabilities:

First night: for inclusive education

Second night: for community recreation

Third night: for health care parity

Fourth night: for economic self sufficiency

Fifth night: for access to higher education

Sixth night: for community housing

Seventh night: for real employment opportunities

Eighth night: for family supports

Please join me in dedicating this Hanukkah to the sacred struggle for fairness, freedom, and high expectations.

— Jo Ann Simons


Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Initiatives, Uncategorized

Today we have another story about the Young Adult Transitions to Work Program we support here in Boston.  Enjoy a glimpse into one young woman’s working life and, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box provided.

You can learn more about Transitions here

— Jay Ruderman

Becky Cleinman tells us she loves everything about her life. She loves her neighborhood in Arlington, MA where she lives with her parents. She loves the dogs that live down the street. And she loves her job as a greeter at Au Bon Pain in Downtown Boston, an easy subway ride from home.

But mostly she loves her customers. “I see them every day and they know me,” says Cleinman. Although things can get pretty hectic around the lunch hour, she always manages to keep an eye open for her regulars and make sure they get taken care of.

Cleinman landed this job after completing Young Adult Transitions to Work, a groundbreaking new program the Ruderman Family Foundation established with two of our Boston-area partners: Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP).

Like many people with disabilities, the 23-year-old had found great difficulty obtaining meaningful employment. But as one of more than 30 area young adults who have completed the Transitions program, she has successfully learned a variety of job skills preparing her for employment. Like many of the others, she was placed in a job with a Boston-area employer—in this case, Au Bon Pain.  Another of these employers is Hebrew SeniorLife (one of the 40 largest employers in Massachusetts), which now has many Transitions graduates working at its residential centers for older adults.

Transitions doesn’t just train and place young adults with disabilities: it provides ongoing job support, maximizing the probability of success. For Cleinman, that means being able to connect with a staff member from the Transitions to Work program regularly.  “If I ever have a question, I can ask Meghan and sometimes she’ll come in and watch me and give me advice,” Cleinman says. “I know I can always call her.”

We are proud of Becky and of all of our Transitions graduates who are now able to enjoy the sense of productivity, confidence and independence that comes with a job. But with many more members of Boston’s Jewish community ready and eager to work, but still unemployed, the challenge is huge.  There is work ahead for all of us.

— Jay Ruderman


Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Initiatives, Philanthropy trends, Uncategorized

Feeling Connected: Jon’s Lesson for Us All

By Jo Ann Simons, Ruderman Family Foundation Disabilities Advisor and CEO Cardinal Cushing Centers

I should know by now that when you least expect it, profound wisdom is revealed.

I was picking up my son, Jon, at the bus station. As many of you know, Jon is my adult son with Down syndrome. He enjoys, what we like to say is a fully inclusive life. He has his own home, works, volunteers, travels, has friends, belongs to a synagogue and makes his own decisions about what to eat, how much TV to watch, when to go to bed, etc.

As we drove by the airport on the way home, Jon began talking about an upcoming trip that several of his friends were taking to Washington, DC.  He decided that he did not want to go on this trip, in spite of his joy of travel.  He said he wasn’t interested in the itinerary and “they were not even going to the Holocaust Museum,” a place he had visited many years earlier with his 8th grade synagogue class. He went on to talk about our family trip to Israel, where he said, “I visited the real Holocaust Museum,” referring to Yad Vashem, I reminded him of the time we all bore witness at Dachau.

And that’s when Jonathan summed it all up. He said, “Going to all those places, it makes me feel connected.”

I began to wonder. Is it inclusion we seek or is it being connected? Jon’s feeling of being included is about being recognized as a Jew and being part of our history. Of all the gifts our community has given him, being connected is what has meaning for him.

And while we prayed together this past Rosh Hashanah, on Yom Kippur, Jon was 90 miles away, praying at his synagogue, in his congregation, feeling connected.

— Jo Ann Simons


Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Down syndrome, Uncategorized

Shabbat Matchmaking in Israel


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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The Nalaga’at Center is coming to New York City!

By Guest Blogger Talia Winokur, the Nalaga’at Center

This January, New York City audiences will have the chance to experience a unique social and artistic enterprise – the Nalaga’at Center. The Center — based in the Israeli port of Jaffa — is a meeting place for people who are deaf, blind, deaf-blind, sighted and hearing.

The Nalaga’at Center is also home to the Nalaga’at Theater, the only theater in the world with actors who are deaf-blind. The 22 ensemble actors mount two productions: “Not by Bread Alone,” the theater’s highly acclaimed show which has been running for over four years, and “Luna Park,” the new production now in trial runs.

Both shows open a window into the special inner world of people who are both deaf and blind, living in a darkness and stillness that is unimaginable to most.

 Now “Not by Bread Alone” is set to be performed at the Skirball Center in Manhattan from January 16 through February 3. The show, a magical journey that spans various stories, dreams and locations, has been performed in Israel, South Korea and London — where it has received rave reviews. One critic called it  “a test of theater itself, the way good work can communicate across the boundaries of darkness and silence.”  (Lyn Gardner, The Guardian)

The Nalaga’at Center is also home to two extraordinary culinary venues: Kapish Café, where all waiters are deaf and communicate with the guests in sign language, teaching them a different form of communication; and the BlackOut, where the guests dine in absolute darkness and the waiters, who are all blind, serve as their guides in the unknown territory of no-vision. Replicas of both Kapish Café and the BlackOut restaurant will also be built at the Skirball Center, serving the public before and after the show.

All of us at the Nalaga’at Center invite you to join us for these unique and powerful experiences.  For more information, click here.  

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