Tag Archives: jay ruderman

New MKs – the importance of your American cousins

Friends,

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

By JAY RUDERMAN

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.

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What ARE they thinking?

Friends,

One of the great benefits – and occupational hazards– of championing a cause such as the inclusion of people with disabilities is that eventually one can end up in a bubble, surrounded by wonderful but like-minded people devoted to the same cause.  That may partly explain why I was so shocked earlier this month to see the survey results reported in the Times of Israel article below.

To those of you familiar with Israel, I ask: do these statistics sound accurate to you?  Is this really what most Israelis think?  If so, why?  Is this so different from the way the rest of the world thinks– or are these Israelis just being more honest?

Most importantly, what can we do about it?

How can we usher in a new era of tolerance, understanding, and compassion in relation to our neighbors with not only intellectual disabilities, but all kinds of disabilities?  These are questions I ponder every day, and I invite you to help me better understand the attitudes and assumptions that stand in our way.

–Jay Ruderman

 

Half of Israelis don’t want anything to do with mentally disabled

Asher Zeiger, Times of Israel, January 3, 2013

A narrow majority of Israelis — 52 percent — would prefer not to meet people who are mentally disabled, according to a survey released by a leading Israeli organization that advocates for the intellectually challenged.

In addition, 40% of those interviewed said that they would not want to be the neighbors of a mentally disabled person, and some 25% said they would not want to work in the same room as such a person, or even receive service in a coffee house from one.

The survey, which was published on Wednesday by AKIM, the National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, was based on a sample of 605 people and was conducted in conjunction with the B.I. and Lucille Cohen Institute for Public Opinion Research of Tel Aviv University.

Some 25% of the people interviewed believe that mentally disabled people could be dangerous, and 31% said they should be kept separate from the general population.

Beyond complete separation, many of the people interviewed believe that some of the rights enjoyed by most Israelis should not be granted to the mentally disabled. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they should not be allowed to vote, 15% believe they should not be allowed to marry, and 28% said they should be prevented from having sexual relations.

Israeli law not only allows the intellectually disabled adults to vote, but also permits them to have a companion with them in the booth when they cast their ballot.

Sigal Peretz Yahalomi, the director-general of AKIM, explained that, in Israel, the classification of a person as mentally disabled is done by a Welfare Ministry expert committee. The definition includes those with an IQ of less than 70, she said.

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The Power of the Right Match

Friends,

Today I write to share my Letter to the Editor from last week’s New York Times, referencing the Transitions to Work program we developed here in Boston with Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Jewish Vocational Services.   I wrote it in response to a December 25th Times column, “The Power of a Mom’s Love.”

Nothing can match the power of a mother’s love, but we can learn from Laurie Cameron’s tireless quest to find the best educational program for her son.  Just as his school needed to be the right match for his unique needs and abilities, we are learning that vocational programs need to customize their job placements based on both the exact abilities of the employee as well as the exact needs of the employer.  These latter concerns– the needs of the employer– are often neglected in the big matching game that many vocational agencies are trying to figure out how to get right.

–Jay Ruderman

“Link the Disabled to the Job,” New York Times, January 3, 2013

To the Editor:

The Power of a Mom’s Love,” by Joe Nocera (column, Dec. 25), highlights the challenges in creating the most appropriate supports for people with disabilities, including meaningful job training and placement. Too often, job training for people with disabilities is far too rudimentary and does not take into account what a person with disabilities can bring to an organization.

Rather than providing general job training in the hopes that a vacant position will appear, the equation should be flipped and employers should tell training agencies what skills they are seeking, so that specialized training can qualify the person with a disability for the job.

That is what our foundation has tried to do, in partnership with other Jewish service organizations in Boston, in a program called Transitions to Work. The early results are showing success.

JAY RUDERMAN
Rehovot, Israel, Dec. 26, 2012

The writer is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. 

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Just the Beginning

Friends,

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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Opening Abraham’s Tent in Baltimore, Delaware, Boston… and Beyond

Friends,

Today I’m sharing with you an op-ed that ran recently in the Jewish Advocate here in Boston.  It was written by my sister and Ruderman Family Foundation Trustee Sharon Shapiro and our colleague in the struggle for inclusion, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.  As you see, signs of progress in our community are everywhere.

–Jay Ruderman

Boston sets example for full inclusion of disabled

The Jewish Advocate, November 28, 2012

Recently, we had the honor of participating in an informative and inspiring conference in Baltimore titled, “Opening Abraham’s Tent: The Disability Inclusion Initiative.”  This conference was proof that, finally, the right people are “on the bus” to help ensure that people with disabilities and their families are fully included in Jewish life in communities across North America.  It also validated the model for inclusion that has been developed here in Boston.

The conference resulted from a partnership of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) and the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH).

The caliber of the people in the room, including top staff from JFNA and many of the largest federations, demonstrated the importance of this issue. These organizations, which collectively raise billions each year to support Jewish causes, can do more for inclusion than any other network in the Jewish community.

An important first step is work done by JFNA’s Disability Committee, which developed the “Four Key Elements of Inclusion,” a framework to guide federations and affiliated agencies to achieve meaningful progress toward inclusion.

  • Accessibility — Ensuring that people with disabilities can access Jewish institutions in our communities and all of the activities held within them.
  • Acceptance — Understanding that each one of us has a role to play so that all people are welcome and can participate in meaningful ways.
  • Accommodation — Adapting and modifying the environment or programming to allow people with disabilities to actively participate.
  • Welcoming — Treating people with disabilities and their families with respect and dignity, while creating a sense of unity within the Jewish community.

Agreeing to these elements was an important milestone, but actions mean more than words, and the commitment to these principles must come from the entirety of our communities.  Therefore, it was meaningful that the gathering included luminaries in the field from all different walks of Jewish life, as well as representatives from the breadth of religious, Jewish social service, and educational organizations.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who keynoted the program, is Jewish and served on his local Federation board and as a member of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet.

As chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Markell has focused his efforts on employment issues for individuals with disabilities.  His initiative, A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities is working to bring people with disabilities into the workforce by focusing on their abilities, not their disabilities.  He is meeting with governors and businesses across the country to advance opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market.  During his speech, Markell inspired federations and other Jewish organizations to “walk the walk” and be even more inclusive not only in whom they serve, but also in whom they hire.

In Boston, the Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies has funded groundbreaking initiatives that provide inclusive opportunities for members of our community. Among them are Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, which helps children with disabilities in Greater Boston to access Jewish learning services.  Another program, Transitions, which partners with the Jewish Vocational Service, funds an innovative employment program for young adults with disabilities to obtain job training at a site (Hebrew SeniorLife’s NewBridge on the Charles) that can potentially employ them after training. This pioneering program aims to increase the low employment rates among persons with disabilities.

In addition to these programs, Boston is blessed with agencies, synagogues and initiatives that provide housing, employment, education, friendship, camping, case management and advocacy services to people with disabilities and their families.

It is clear that every Jewish person must be included in order for the Jewish people as a whole to be truly united as one. The work done by CJP and other Jewish philanthropic organizations in Boston is ushering in a new era of accessibility, acceptance, and accommodation to welcome everyone into our Jewish community.

We believe that while much is left to be done, Boston is a model for the full inclusion of people with disabilities.  This is a cue for the rest of the Jewish world not to trail behind.

Sharon Ruderman Shapiro is Vice President of the Ruderman Family Foundation of Newton and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of Laszlo Strategies and co-director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust, which was a cosponsor and funder of the conference.

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Unforgettable Summertime Shabbat: An Inclusive Prayer Service at Ramah

Friends,

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

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

Friends:

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

Friends,

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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Friends,
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

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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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