Wednesday, February 24, 2016

You can't dance at two weddings with one pair of feet

From the website of my daughter's school: A financial crisis there means all therapies
have been savagely cut-back, effective immediately 
As February 2016 - Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month - draws to a close, here are some numbers to mull over. They come courtesy of the Leadership Conference on People with Disabilities in Israel ("Paving the Way Towards Person-Centered Services") which was held on February 8, 2016.

Along with much invaluable information, here is what one speaker told the audience:
Despite progress, in the United States ~28,000 people remain in large state ID/DD institutions and 140,000 people are still in private institutions out of a total population of 319 million. Israel has ~10,000 such people institutionalized in a country of 8 million!
The real problem is that those who are paid to be, and should be, disturbed by this are not.

So we have the Ruderman Foundation sounding off persistently about the need for greater inclusion, independence and in-community living  for people with disabilities. Yet their website boasts two articles praising the work of Aleh, one dated 2012, the other 2013.  Wasn't there ample time to delete them if the Foundation had progressed beyond that archaic outlook?

During this year's Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, we saw a fresh PR release by Aleh ("The wisdom of the disabled", February 14, 2016) in the pages of Yisrael Hayom, reputed to be PM Netanyahu's mouthpiece. Written by an Aleh spokesperson, it appeared as a news item, replete with the usual, jargony disingenuous gobbledygook intended to deflect readers' attention from the discrimination against people with disabilities that is, in fact, Aleh's raison d'etre. Oh, and along with the usual linguistic mistakes.

Here is an excerpt:
When discussing our potentials, we continually focus on long-term self-actualization goals like finding a rewarding career and reaching for our ideal levels of physical and mental health. But I have always wondered if we are missing something, if perhaps by prescribing (sic) to this definition of fulfillment, we obscure the bigger picture... Working as a special education teacher at ALEH, Israel's largest network of residential facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, I tend to focus on a different kind of potential when working with my students. For example, while most 6-year-olds are occupied with the challenge of learning to read, ALEH students in the same age group work diligently toward the goals of holding a spoon and recognizing their own names.
The piece is particularly infuriating to me because this month the school which my daughter Chaya attends entered "financial-crisis mode". Since its inception over two decades ago, this has been a private school funded by overseas donations. That source has now dried up and the place is being left to flounder until the next school year when it will be "adopted" by the Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Municipality. Until then, our children will suffer drastic cuts in therapies - which were already a mere drop in the bucket - and in staffing.

Where is our government? Where is the prime minister who claims (in this YouTube clip, for instance) to be so concerned about Israel's children with disabilities.

Chaya will not benefit from the anticipated return to a semblance of normality in September 2016. That's because at the end of this current academic year she will be 21 years old and the powers-that-be consider that an appropriate age for her to "graduate".  She will be off-loaded to, well, pretty much a vacuum of care.

One option we have been offered is a "moadon" where she could sit for the morning hours and vegetate along with 11 other profoundly disabled young adults under the care of ONE employee.

Of course, there is the option of sending her to Aleh, awash with funds. But why are those funds not used to help families keep their children living at home with their loving families?

If you have an answer, I invite you to share it with me and other readers. (About the title of this post, see this source.)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Strange bedfellows

The Bizchut event advertisement
Back to the plight of people with disabilities - and let's not forget their families!

I was invited this week to attend a an evening of lectures and discussion relating to independent, in community living  for people with disabilities. It is jointly sponsored by Bizchut, the Har Nof (Jerusalem) office of the Ministry of Welfare and the Har Nof neighborhood council.

The first oddity in this event is that males are barred. Bizchut is an unequivocally secular NGO, founded by none other than the late and unequivocally secular Shulamit Aloni. So why have they agreed to this condition? Aren't men equally entitled to whatever is on offer? Couldn't separate seating have resolved the brouhaha that a mixed crowd would trigger for Hareidi attendees?

What puzzled me next was that among the recipients of the email was a senior Aleh administrator. Aleh, by its very existence, undermines the cause of in community and family living for people with disabilities. Its four large, closed institutions scattered across the country house a total of nearly 1,000 babies, children and young adults. It siphons off gargantuan sums of government funds and private donations that would otherwise be available to the those with disabilities who live at home..

I hope to attend and learn what role Bizchut believes that Aleh plays in the transition toward community living for the disabled.

Will keep you all posted.

Friday, February 12, 2016

First lady follies

First lady arrives in court to testify. October 2015 [Image Source
I can't think of a more appropriate time than now to note that Sara Netanyahu  played a key role in the Shalit Deal. The fact that she was nothing but the wife of the Prime Minister, never elected nor appointed to any official government position, didn't stop her from throwing her weight around. Worse, it didn't stop her husband from empowering her in a  critical matter of state.

But first the current headlines.

For those who have been visiting Mars - this week, in a labor court case, the judge ruled [“Ex-caretaker wins abuse case against Sara Netanyahu”, Times of Israel, February 10, 2016] that Mrs. Netanyahu verbally and emotionally abused her employee and awarded him damages of 170,000 shekels. She added: 
“Numerous testimonies presented to the court point to an atmosphere of harmful work conditions at the residence due to the behavior of Mrs. Netanyahu and her attitude toward the workers. These included irrational demands, insults, humiliation and outbursts of rage.” [Associated Press - Washington Post, February 10, 2016]
In a 2012 interview, the prime minister Netanyahu made a revealing concession:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu credited his wife, Sara, for pushing him to execute the prisoner exchange that released Gilad Schalit from captivity in October. “She was probably the most influential factor in my decision to bring about the release of Gilad Schalit and he has been fine since then,” Netanyahu told the German newspaper Bild… “It was a tough decision, but we value every life. Our enemies celebrate death, that’s why they think we are weak. They are wrong. We love life but we are also ready to defend our lives,” he said. [Jerusalem Post, October 6, 2012]
Image Source
We all know that the life Netanyahu was really thinking about is his political life. 

And with opinion polls at that time showing that nearly 80% of the public favored caving in to Hamas demands for a mass release of convicted murderers, Netanyahu and his wife saw their decision as a no-brainer.

In order to cement their relationship with the Shalit parents, PM Netanyahu and his wife hosted them at their home (photo at right) prior to announcing the sealing of the Shalit Deal. 

Remember that what incenses us isn't the  irrational, less-than-sane behavior that landed Sara Netanyahu with last week's decision. Reprehensible as that was, it impacted only a few individuals in a very personal way. What should concern us, though, is that this private citizen played a central role in what our prime minister has described as the most difficult decision he ever made.

The Shalit Deal is only one such instance that PM Netanyahu publicized. But in light of that revelation, we can safely presume that there were many other cases; other matters with grave repercussions for us all, in which his wife meddled or, was, as he put it, "the most influential factor in my decision".

We deserve a leader who is as riled by this misconduct as we are. Somebody who is motivated - and able - to rein in his loose-cannon wife. Our present one clearly is not. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Ruderman Foundation: Friend or foe?

My daughter honors Jewish Disabilities
Awareness Month with a new pair of
Set aside a bit of time and thought this month for our citizens with disabilities because February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.

Sadly, the Israeli media doesn't see any point in doing that. That should come as no surprise: for the most part, the local media only address the topic of disabilities, almost exclusively, when Israel's largest chain of closed institutions for the disabled, Aleh, submits one of its duplicitous PR releases.

So I was only reminded of February's significance by an article in the American Jewish newspaper, The Forward, "How We're Failing Jews with Disabilities". It was sympathetic to people with disabilities and pulled no punches in assessing the Jewish community's inclusion of them.

First it conceded that "some progress has been made" and gave a thumbs up to three organizations, one of them, the Ruderman Foundation which, it said, "has funded meaningful disability inclusion programs in each of the major Jewish movements, as well as in important Jewish organizations like Hillel International."

It  should be emphasized that the writer himself, Ari Ne'eman, reveals that he won the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion from the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Hmmm. Do you see impartiality exiting the stage?

This is significant because the Ruderman Foundation passionately supports the institutionalization of people with disabilities here in Israel. On its very own site, it posted the following glorification of Aleh, king of institutionalization. Bear in mind that this solution to the care of people with disabilities would not exist in the United States where institutionalization has been nearly eradicated. (See my earlier post: "Aleh 101".)

In fact on its website, the Ruderman Foundation posted the following glorification of Aleh. Needless to say, it was written by ALEH’s Marketing Communications and Corporate Relations Manager, Sharon Hadani Dayan. Entitled, "Positive Impact", it is the standard fare that Aleh tirelessly serves up to the public:
ALEH’s prisoner rehabilitation program is a perfect example of the positive impact that people with disabilities can have on society at large.
ALEH, Israel’s largest network of facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities, developed an award-winning prisoner rehabilitation program that allows those serving long sentences for non-violent crimes to volunteer once a week with ALEH residents in the Negev (southern Israel).
The program is run exclusively at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a cutting-edge rehabilitative village for Israelis with a severe disability that was founded by Major General (res.) Doron Almog.
As usual, this PR release lauds the benefits that the prisoners reap from their participation therein.
And, as usual, it utterly ignores the exploitation of this program's silent, vulnerable "subjects", the institutionalized citizens.

The Ruderman Foundation has fostered institutionalization in even more insidious ways than by posting Aleh's gobbledygook on its website.

It finances NGO's espousing credos that are diametrically opposed to those of Aleh:  inclusion and in-community living for people with disabilities. In so doing, the  Ruderman Foundation has silenced their criticism of Aleh.

One such organization which formerly published scathing attacks on Aleh's institutions never mentions the issue any more. When I questioned that blatant 180, its employees candidly, perhaps somewhat shamefacedly, told me that with Ruderman's generous funding they simply couldn't  denounce Ruderman.

Clearly, as a an uncontested champion of the disabled, Ruderman's support for Aleh has been invaluable to its growth. It has also singlehandedly, impeded the inclusion and deinstitutionalization more than any other single body.