This February is the 11th Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). This month presents an opportunity for the Jewish community to support those in our communities who face obstacles in their day-to-day lives. The simple things that many of us take for granted every day are a struggle for many Jews both here in America and in the homeland, Israel.
Over the last 11 years, there have been two non-profits driving change and making an impact in the lives of Jews with a special needs and disabilities: Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF).
In America, JFNA has been a national force in advocacy efforts in Washington D.C and in every major market around the country. In Israel, JNF has played a critical role in raising money for programs in Israel that support Israelis with special needs and disabilities.
Two of my favorite projects that JNF has helped to bring to life inside Israel are 1) Special in Uniform and 2) Aleh Negev Rehab Village
Aleh Negev provides children with disabilities throughout Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care to help them realize their full potential. Aleh Negev is a state-of-the-art communal rehab village situated in Ofakim. Aleh Negev is home to over 500 residential adults with disabilities and serves over 12,000 children and young adults with disabilities each year on an outpatient basis. Until the Aleh Negev campus was built, those with severe disabilities have grown up in hospitals, with no sense of home or societal framework. When I visited the village in July 2018, I saw first hand how the interactive petting zoo, special education school, hydrotherapy pool and first-class medical facilities have touched the lives of so many less fortunate Israelis and their families.
Special in Uniform is an innovative program that integrates youth with disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and helps prepare them for careers following army service. In Israel, service in the national army is compulsory and it’s part of an Israeli’s DNA. Prior to Special in Uniform, those with special needs were left on the outside looking in without the opportunity to serve in the IDF. This led to a disconnect between families and the individual with special needs with a feeling that they were not serving their country like everyone else.
The program was founded to give everyone a right to fulfill their potential and be accepted into society, regardless of any disability. Special in Uniform goes beyond the walls of IDF bases, helping its graduates integrate into the workforce and Israeli society in meaningful ways. Over the last 14 years, the program has helped create over 400 soldiers that have served at over 30 IDF bases. Together, Special in Uniform and Jewish National Fund-USA are changing the fabric of the Israeli society, helping create a more caring and inclusive society in Israel by promoting Inclusion of people with disabilities in the IDF in a national level.
Jewish National Fund – USA’s Yossi Kahana is the Director of JNF’s Task Force on Disabilities. Yossi supports a network of JNF’s partnership programs for people with disabilities, ensuring that all programs are effective and fiscally strong.
Here in America, JFNA has been advocating on behalf of the Jewish special needs and disabilities community at a federal ,state and local officials for over a decade. In 2018, JFNA hosted a JDAD day in Washington D.C involved opposing a change in Medicaid funding that would place caps on the federal government’s share, or turn funds into block grants, and which would potentially lead to financial hardship for people with disabilities. The second policy issue focused on supporting the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Full Funding Act, which would raise the federal contribution for special education services to 40% as required by law.
Last year, JFNA led a coalition of 55 Jewish agencies and non profits. “At JFNA, we know that the ADA Education and Reform Act promotes neither education nor reform. That is why we are mobilizing federations, national Jewish agencies, and grassroots advocates to prevent H.R. 620 (or any similar legislation) from receiving the 60 votes required to pass the Senate,” said William Daroff, JFNA’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of its Washington Office.
On February 26th, JFNA is hosting their 9th Annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. To attend or sponsor the event – click here.
Regardless of whether you are in America or Israel, please join me in contributing your funds or your time to these two organizations that are deeply committed to serving the Jewish Community both in America and in Israel with Special Needs and Disabilities.
To learn more, click here: Jewish National Fund.
To learn more, click here: Jewish Federations of North America.