Bonei Zion

Build­ing Is­rael through hope and in­clu­sion

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By KALMAN SA­MUELS

At age 70, Is­rael is a sym­bol of hope for its own cit­i­zens and for its sup­port­ers world­wide. One of the pri­mary sources of this hope is the Jewish state’s stel­lar global rep­u­ta­tion as an in­no­va­tor, which far out­paces the na­tion’s size and years.

Is­rael is of­ten lauded for its break­throughs in busi­ness, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. Yet the coun­try is also stronger than ever be­cause of its lead­er­ship in an area that draws less at­ten­tion: in­clu­sion. For in­stance, the IDF places a high pri­or­ity on in­te­grat­ing sol­diers with dis­abil­i­ties, and the Knes­set ear­lier this year unan­i­mously ap­proved a 50% in­crease in dis­abil­ity pen­sions. A so­ci­ety can reach its full po­ten­tial only when it wel­comes and em­pow­ers all of its mem­bers. Isn’t that the type of so­ci­ety you would want to be a part of? By rec­og­niz­ing that in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties do have abil­i­ties, Is­rael is be­com­ing its best self.

The im­por­tance of in­clu­sion comes to mind as I re­flect on re­ceiv­ing the 2018 Syl­van Adams Ne­fesh B’Ne­fesh Bonei Zion Prize at a won­der­ful Knes­set cer­e­mony on Oc­to­ber 28. The prize rec­og­nizes the achieve­ments of out­stand­ing An­glo im­mi­grants to Is­rael. The award’s name is trans­lated from He­brew as “builders of Is­rael.” Build­ing is about creat­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties and hope through­out a so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly for its most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers. I am hum­bled to have been part of that kind of build­ing for the past 28 years. One fam­ily, one ther­apy ses­sion and one vol­un­teer at a time, build­ing an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety is the mis­sion of Shalva, the Is­rael As­so­ci­a­tion for the Care and In­clu­sion of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties, the or­ga­ni­za­tion I co-founded with my wife Malki.

Shalva is a story of in­spi­ra­tion and op­por­tu­nity born out of tragedy. My sec­ond son, Yossi, was in­jured at the age of 11 months by a faulty vac­ci­na­tion and was ren­dered blind, deaf and acutely hy­per­ac­tive. Af­ter seven years with no com­mu­ni­ca­tion, he ex­pe­ri­enced a break­through, learn­ing to com­mu­ni­cate through sign lan­guage in the palm of his hand and later, to speak. Re­mem­ber­ing our des­per­ate prayer from years be­fore that if God would help Yossi, we would ded­i­cate our­selves to help­ing oth­ers, Malki and I es­tab­lished Shalva in 1990.

What be­gan as a small af­ter-school pro­gram in a rented apart­ment has de­vel­oped into round-the-clock pro­gram­ming for more than 2,000 in­di­vid­u­als weekly at the Jerusalem-based, sta­teof-the-art Shalva Na­tional Cen­ter, which opened in 2016. Our com­pre­hen­sive ther­apy and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams are all free of charge and serve the en­tire spec­trum of Is­raeli so­ci­ety re­gard­less of re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity, or so­cioe­co­nomic stand­ing. Shalva pro­vides 313,970 hours of ther­apy as well as 39,500 hours of ex­er­cise and phys­i­cal train­ing an­nu­ally; has 350 staff mem­bers, ther­a­pists, and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als; and works with 73 Is­raeli na­tional ser­vice vol­un­teers.

Shalva of­fers in­fants, chil­dren, and adults with dis­abil­i­ties, as well as their par­ents, var­i­ous pro­gram­ming and ther­a­pies. Pro­gram­ming in­cludes re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive day care, in­clu­sive preschool, overnight and week­end respite, sports and hy­drother­apy, sum­mer camp, em­ploy­ment train­ing and in­de­pen­dent liv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Fur­ther­more, Shalva pro­motes in­clu­sion and re­verse in­clu­sion through in­no­va­tive ini­tia­tives that pro­vide a blue­print for the fu­ture of dis­abil­ity care. Th­ese pro­grams in­clude Café Shalva, a bou­tique culinary es­tab­lish­ment that serves as a model for em­ploy­ment in­clu­sion; the Shalva Band, com­prised of mu­si­cians and vo­cal artists with dis­abil­i­ties who per­form by in­vi­ta­tion at cul­tural venues and dig­ni­tary events; the Shalva Na­tional Park for In­clu­sion, Jerusalem’s first in­clu­sive out­door play area open to the greater pub­lic; and more. In the past year, over 100,000 vis­i­tors from the gen­eral pub­lic vis­ited Shalva and many govern­ment and pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions held their own con­fer­ences and spe­cial events in Shalva’s fa­cil­i­ties, thus creat­ing a model for re­verse in­clu­sion.

Beyond of­fer­ing th­ese pro­grams, Shalva is ded­i­cated to el­e­vat­ing the stan­dards of dis­abil­ity ser­vices in Is­rael and world­wide by col­lab­o­rat­ing with gov­ern­men­tal, aca­demic and cul­tural en­ti­ties. A to­tal of 5,300 peo­ple, in­clud­ing high-level rep­re­sen­ta­tives of gov­ern­ments and ma­jor or­ga­ni­za­tions from abroad, vis­ited the Shalva Na­tional Cen­ter as part of or­ga­nized groups in 2017. Their sole pur­pose was to learn how to im­ple­ment Shalva’s model in their coun­tries and in­sti­tu­tions.

Re­ceiv­ing the Bonei Zion Prize in­spires me to not only con­tinue but also to in­ten­sify

my ef­forts to build Is­rael by pro­mot­ing hope and in­clu­sion. Is­rael has come so far in a mere 70 years, but it will only con­tinue to grow at this rate if all mem­bers of its so­ci­ety are val­ued and given the op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute. That is the mes­sage of Shalva.

The writer, who made aliyah from Van­cou­ver in 1970 as a univer­sity stu­dent, is the founder and pres­i­dent of Shalva, the Is­rael As­so­ci­a­tion for the Care and In­clu­sion of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties. He is the re­cip­i­ent of the 2018 Syl­van Adams Ne­fesh B’Ne­fesh Bonei Zion Prize in the com­mu­nity/non­profit cat­e­gory.

(Reuters)

BY REC­OG­NIZ­ING that in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties do have abil­i­ties, Is­rael is be­com­ing its best self.

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