Tag Archives: israel

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.




1 Comment

Filed under Disabilities rights

New MKs – the importance of your American cousins


Today I write to share with you my recent op-ed in The Jerusalem Post.

Do you think Knesset members fully appreciate the importance of understanding the diverse perspectives of American Jews on Israel? If not, why not?

–Jay Ruderman

New MKs – the importance of your American cousins


The Jerusalem Post , 1/28/2013

As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security.

The votes have been counted.

It appears that almost half the members of our new Knesset will be serving in the Knesset for the first time, and that there will be several new ministers in Israel’s next government. The faces of Israel’s elected officials are changing, and with that comes the prospect – and hope – that there will be broader understanding on the Israeli government’s part of the American Jewish community’s role in ensuring Israel’s security.

Much of the recent election campaign was focused on the significant social problems facing Israel.

Both new and returning MKs may confidently assume that the United States will continue to send Israel $3 billion every year in military aid.

Trends in the United States, however, lead to real concern about potential challenges to American support for Israel. Moreover, Knesset members – both new and returning – tend take the support of the American Jewish community for granted and do not fully understand the vital role this community plays in ensuring the US government’s continued support for Israel.

Many MKs both travel to the United States and meet American Jews visiting Israel, but the discussion is always a one-way conversation focused on Israel’s external threats and internal challenges.

Very rarely are Israel’s leaders presented with an opportunity to learn about the nature and concerns of the American Jewish community and how its connection to Israel is evolving.

DURING THE previous Knesset, Israel’s current homeland security minister, Avi Dichter, along with 10 other MKs from five different parties, visited the US as part of our Ruderman Family Foundation’s Ruderman Fellows Program. Minister Dichter remarked that, “After all of my years representing the State of Israel in key positions, this is the first time that I was truly exposed to the richness and complexity of American Jewry, its organizations, leaders and [the] challenges facing the community.”

He was shocked to find out that there is a debate in the US on the size of the Jewish population, with one organization claiming there are 5 million Jews and another stating the number is 6.2 million – a 25 percent difference.

There will be challenges to the US-Israel relationship in the near future. United States Senator Rand Paul, who recently visited Israel and has been talked about as a presidential candidate in 2016, advocates for a reduction in American foreign aid. While Senator Paul would like to see all foreign aid reduced, this action would have an outsized effect on Israel, which receives so much aid in relation to other countries.

In addition, Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s new nominee for secretary of defense, has in the past been critical of the role of the “Jewish lobby.”

President Obama’s second-term team and Israel’s new administration may see Israel’s challenges very differently and these differing world views may be the cause for new stresses in the vital relationship between the United States and Israel. It seems clear that Israel will face challenges in the US political system, and must be prepared to deal with these challenges.

WHAT OUR new MKs need to understand is that America’s military aid to Israel, the $3b. that has been provided year after year, cannot be taken for granted and that the best way to ensure that this vital aid continues is through the political work of the American Jewish community. Despite senators Paul and Hagel, the vast majority of Members of Congress are strongly supportive of Israel and foreign aid.

These strong supporters of Israel in Congress have been educated and supported by the American Jewish community.

The Knesset must internalize the vital role that the American Jewish community plays in ensuring Israel’s security and spend time understanding how this important community connects to Israel.

Knesset members must understand how the assimilation of the American Jewish community will impact Israel and what they can do to speak to and strengthen Israel’s ties to this growing part of the Jewish community in the United States.

They also need to understand how American Reform, Conservative and even modern Orthodox Jewish communities relate to Israel and understand that when Israel decides issues such as “who is a Jew” it impacts these important relationships.

American Jews and their Israeli counterparts differ in many ways and live in different realities, but the two communities are interconnected and interdependent, and this cannot be overlooked.

As the American Jewish community’s connection to Israel evolves and changes, the people who will be our future leaders must understand these changes because Israel continues to rely on this most important community for our security. We need our American Jewish cousins because we cannot face our future challenges alone.

The writer is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Leave a comment

Filed under General News, Israel Diaspora Understanding

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.

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, General News, Initiatives, Uncategorized

Double Challenge: Disabilities in Time of War


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.


1 Comment

Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, General News, In the Media, Initiatives, 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

1 Comment

Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, Initiatives, Uncategorized

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.


Leave a comment

Filed under General News, In the Media, Initiatives, Israel Diaspora Understanding, Uncategorized