I had a treat yesterday. I had an experience the likes of which I have never had before, one which was particularly welcome at this stressful time of Operation Protection Edge. I went to Beit Issie Shapiro for a tour. My tour guide was Benjy Maor, Director of International Resource Development.

What is Beit Issie Shapiro?

What I thought it was and what it actually is are two very different things.

I thought it was some sort of care and treatment institution for children with learning difficulties. If someone else said that they think that it’s a garden centre, I guess one could say that my answer is nearer to the right answer than is the other but to call it ‘some sort of care and treatment institution for children with learning difficulties’ is such a basic description, so devoid of detail, depth and emotion, it so misses the essence of what Beit Issie Shapiro is that one could almost say that I was actually wrong, that, in fact, it is NOT ‘some sort of care and treatment institution for children with learning difficulties’.

So what is Beit Issie Shapiro?

My wife asked me, after the tour, how it went, what I though of the place. I’m hardly ever stuck for words but I was when she asked me the question. My swirling emotions conspired to make the words which came out of my mouth unintelligible – well, the words were intelligible but I was unable to string them together to make sentences which made any sense. I told her that trying to describe Beit Issie in such a way that she would ‘get it’ was like trying to describe to someone from a backwater, who has never left that backwater, what Disney Land is like….to call Disney Land an amazing, fun park for children with lots of Disney characters and great rides around the place will not begin to give that person from the backwater an idea as to what Disney Land is like and the same goes for the description of Beit Issie as ‘some sort of care and treatment institution for children with learning difficulties’.

…but I’ll have a go…

Beit Issie Shapiro is the culmination of a dream, the dream of a wonderful man who had love flowing through his veins. Issie Shapiro z”l had a dream, a dream to spread the message that ALL children, regardless of their intellectual or cognitive advantages or disadvantages, are members of society, that ALL children should have equal rights to education and opportunities, that ALL children should have access to the love and dedication of carers and teachers so that they can ALL fully participate in society, so that they can ALL achieve their potential, so that ALL children feel that they ‘belong’ – Issie Shapiro saw ALL children as making up the ‘us’ group, not ‘them’ and ‘us’ groups….and ‘ALL’ means Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, people of any and no religion. ‘Integration’ is a key word at Beit Issie: the aim is to work with children to ensure that, wherever possible, they can go to school and socialise with children who do not have intellectual or cognitive difficulties.

Beit Issie is Issie Shapiro’s dream. Tragically, Issie Shapiro died before his dream was realised but the Shapiro genes which make up his family ensured that his descendants would, with the dedication of other ‘disciples’, see the dream through to fruition, not just to fruition but to beyond Issie’s wildest dreams. Beit Issie Shapiro is a world renowned Centre of Excellence. Beit Issie sets the standard and keeps raising it. Professionals come to Beit Issie from all over the world to see the work which is going on and to learn from it. Beit Issie is a magnet which attracts the greatest brains in professional childcare.

Beit Issie, a non-residential centre, brings together a team of loving, dedicated, professionals who, in partnership with family, friends and donors, ensure that children with intellectual and cognitive challenges, can thrive and reach their potential. The work at Beit Issie is pioneering. The team is driven to keep creating ‘firsts’. The team has set up the ‘Protective Edge’ hotline to provide emotional support to families coping with disability through this difficult time of sirens and the constant need to dash to shelters. We all know how hard it is for us emotionally and, often, practically when the sirens go off – one thing is getting ourselves into the shelter but when we have children to get into the shelter as well, it can be difficult so imagine the extra stress when a child with autism who might not understand what is going on, who might not be able to express him or herself and who doesn’t want to go inside a squashed shelter touching other people is having to cope with the upheaval at this time.

The commitment to the quality of life and to the happiness of the children at Beit Issie, to giving parents, wider family and carers the peace of mind that they need, I saw it yesterday, I sensed it yesterday and the tears flowed. I saw things which blew my mind. This love, dedication, drive, commitment, imagination, intelligence, team work, kindness and altruism, it has all created environments within the centre which I cannot put into words, they have to be seen to be understood, appreciated and believed.

Beit Issie is a wonderful ambassador for Israel. Beit Issie reflects so much of what is great about Israel. The work of Beit Issie is not only of benefit to Israeli children but because of its reputation as a world Centre of Excellence, it benefits Jewish and non-Jewish children alike all over the world. There is so much more to Israel than the war reports. There is so much great, inspiring, life-affirming work going on in this country and whether as donors, as unofficial ambassadors or simply as Israelis proud of the work of Beit Issie Shapiro, we should all publicise its great work and help grow Issie Shapiro’s dream so that it continues to be the gift that keeps on giving and touches and improves more and more lives.

Why not contact Beit Issie Shapiro (info@beitissie.org.il) to set up a tour and see it for yourself?