Jewish National Fund has treated February, observed as Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, as an action month to ensure support and inclusion for all and has dedicated its online resources to commemorating those efforts.
JNF inclusion partners in Israel include Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran, LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit and Special in Uniform. JNF created its Task Force on Disabilities to bring partner organizations together to share resources and meet the needs of those with disabilities in the Galilee and Negev, which typically offer fewer services than are available in the heavily populated center of Israel.
One member of the Task Force on Disabilities is East Cobb resident Aviva Postelnik, who served in the Israel Defense Forces as a medical corps instructor and was a special education teacher in Israel for 17 years. Working in Druze, religious and secular schools, she saw firsthand the benefits of empowering children with disabilities and special needs.
“It was a great privilege to provide individuals with the tools for a productive life and helping to increase their abilities from the very basic to what a person needs to make a living — for them to be truly involved in society and achieve a greater degree of independence,” Postelnik said.
As a member of the Task Force on Disabilities, she said, she has seen how JNF helps Israel provide opportunities for each citizen to contribute in his or her own way.
Alan Wolk of Roswell, who is co-president of JNF’s Southeast Region, also is a task force member. He said he uses the organizational, strategic and leadership skills that helped him work as a corporate executive to “help JNF move forward and increase its positive footprint in Israel.”
“The work our partners do in Israel is incredible, important and uniquely JNF,” Wolk said. “I knew I had to be a part of the Task Force on Disabilities. Helping those who cannot help themselves, helping the weakest among us, this is how I use my voice in Israel.”
Among JNF’s partners:
- Aleh Negev, in Ofakim near Gaza, cares for children and adults with such conditions as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and Tay-Sachs. Aleh Negev has become a center of excellence for people with disabilities and has developed cutting-edge rehabilitative programs that are being replicated worldwide.
“A strong society does not abandon its most vulnerable members. It works tirelessly to enhance their quality of life and promote their inclusion within society while teaching the values of responsibility and love toward every human being, regardless of level of ability or accomplishment,” said reserve Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, the chairman of the village.
- LOTEM is Israel’s leading organization dedicated to making nature accessible to people with special needs. Serving nearly 35,000 participants a year through accessible hikes, nature outings and clubs, LOTEM opens nature to all.
LOTEM works with children and adults who have little or no vision, have little or no hearing, have physical or intellectual challenges, are emotionally disturbed, or at risk of physical or emotional abuse.
- Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center serves children and adults who live in Israel’s south and can benefit from therapeutic riding because of developmental, neurological, emotional, behavioral or learning disabilities or other conditions. Some 200 people from the Arava and Eilat regions participate in a weekly riding program.
“RMTRC performs magic in the remote southern Arava,” said Jill Kisbee, the center’s riding project coordinator.
The center received an award from Access Israel for its years of service to people with disabilities in the Eilat and Arava areas.
- Special in Uniform integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the IDF and in turn into Israeli society. Since becoming a JNF partner last year, Special in Uniform has grown from 100 to 200 participants. It has a long waiting list of Israelis who want to do their national service in the program.
Special in Uniform’s goal is to recruit 1,000 enrolled participants in the next four years.
“The IDF initially considered people with disabilities automatically exempt from mandatory service,” said reserve Lt. Col. Tiran Attia, who manages the program. “With Special in Uniform, we have rejected the IDF’s dogmatic equation of disability with inability and have proved that all can take part and succeed.”