The father of a child represented by this firm forwarded information about a very special kibbutz in Israel. As you may know, an Israeli kibbutz is an agricultural communal settlement whose residents collectively live and work together. The kibbutz this client forwarded information on is called Kishorit, and it is unique because it is designed to meet the needs of adults with developmental disabilities.
In the United States, parents agonize over finding appropriate placements for their adult children in the community which will enable them to function as independently and productively as possible. Kishorit is different, even among the kibbutz movement. Its 140 residents are expected to engage fully in the kibbutz community. Almost 97% of the residents are employed, either through the micro-enterprises run by the kibbutz, or in nearby communities. Staff and volunteers eat, work, and socialize with the residents.
Despite the unique program offered at Kishorit, Israel is behind the United States in its efforts to meet the needs of the disabled. Dr. Joav Merrick, the medical director of the Division of Mental Retardation of the Ministry of Social Affairs and chairman and medical director of Israel’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, immigrated to Israel some 20 years ago. Upon his arrival in Israel, he was shocked to find 5-year-old children with Down’s syndrome effectively warehoused in neonatal hospitals—abandoned at birth by their parents with no other placement options available. It’s been an uphill battle since then to get Israeli’s to change their attitudes toward the disabled.
Recent studies in Israel indicate that one in three persons living in Israel has a disabled family member. Yet, Israelis have a high rate of negative attitudes toward the disabled. These perceptions are being vigorously challenged by a number of groups and organizations in Israel that are striving to help disabled Israelis integrate into society. One of the most vocal activists for change in Israel is Yoav Kraiem, who has severe cerebral palsy. It was Mr. Kraiem’s father, an editor of a literary journal, who infamously stated in an interview about his son, “better to have let the boy die in infancy right there in his incubator.” His father’s comments, according to Mr. Kraiem, were badly misunderstood. What the father, who deeply loved him, was expressing his fear of the multitudes of doors which would be shut for his son, a fear which proved prophetic.
Yoav Kraiem’s advocacy resembles the disability movement in the United States, which ultimately opened the doors (literally and figuratively) to the disabled with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Kraiem had led a 77-day strike in 2002 to increase benefits received by the disabled. Additionally, disabled protesters have blocked the entrance to Jerusalem, burned tires, broken into the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, and attempted to storm the Ministry of Finance until turned back by police.
But multiple agencies are striving together to improve the lives of the almost 700,000 adult Israelis who have disabilities. Currently there are 20 Supportive Communities (which are designed to enable the disabled to live in the communities) and six Centers for Independent Living (CILs). More are planned. And of course, there is Kishorit, with an extraordinarily long wait list for residency.
Given the challenges that many families in the United States face in accessing services for their loved ones, it may seem surprising that Mr. Kraiem, who visited the United States in 2011 as part of a team to study how Americans with disabilities are living, stated that “American are an inspiration to us. . . In America you have so much variety, and that means so much choice. In Israel, right now we have a beginning.” But given that the Israel government is willing to partner with disability organizations that are pushing it toward the development of better services, some believe that ultimately the Israeli government will meet the needs of the disabled better than the United States has. Perhaps we can then learn from the Israelis. Time will tell.