Friday, June 23, 2017

Even Chief Rabbis make mistakes

It has been a demoralizing season for people in Israel with disabilities.

On May 25th, we were subjected to yet another Flash-A-Celebrity episode courtesy of Aleh Jerusalem.

This time, it was the chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who was hosted by that institution's director, Shlomit Grayevsky. She told him:
"Thanks to ALEH’s professional staff and innovative programming, Israeli children with complex disabilities of every age are able to live much like their non-disabled peers, are accepted by a wider segment of the population and develop far beyond the boundaries of their initial prognoses...” ["UK Chief Rabbi Is Captivated by ALEH’s Disability Care", May 26, 2017, Jewish Link of NJ]
I fairly choked on those lies. So being locked in a large, closed institution constitutes living "much like their non-disabled peers"? Well,  it probably does in North Korea. But in Israel?

Aleh maintains that institutionalization of these children is in their own best interests. It affords them access to, as Aleh describes them, state-of-the-art services and therapies. To illustrate, in a profile of one of its residents, Aleh states:
Faced with this new reality [the child suffered devastating brain damage], his family decided that the best home for Yosef would be at ALEH, where he would receive the outstanding care and optimal rehabilitative opportunities to help him develop... ["Adopt Yosef | YOUR SUPPORT WILL HELP YOSEF CONTINUE TO DEVELOP HIS POTENTIAL AND KEEP SMILING!"]
Even if this were accurate, why should these unfortunate children be removed from their homes and families in order to receive the "outstanding" and "optimal" care they surely need and certainly deserve?

Just imagine being told by the government:
"Yes, your non-disabled child needs and deserves an education. She will definitely receive an outstanding one with one proviso: that you first transfer her out of your home."
Sadly, it appears Rabbi Mirvis was either unaware of or unconcerned by the injustices being promoted by his hosts. He also appears not to be sensitive to the disparity between the policies of his own home country toward children with disabilities and those of Israel.

Both the UK and Israel are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 19 of that Convention states clearly that governments are obligated to
"...recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others and take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community..."
The United Kingdom ratified that Convention in 2009 affording it the force of a national law. The starting dates for strategic change toward community services varied. During the past 2-3 decades, complete closure of the traditional large institutions for the mentally disabled has been achieved in several countries. In England for instance, this had been achieved by 2011.

Nevertheless the Chief Rabbi chose to "applaud" and "thank" Aleh for perpetuating the system that his own country has eradicated.

Perhaps he feels that Israeli children with disabilities don't deserve the quality of life that English children with disabilities enjoy?

He said:
"I am proud that in London we have so many generous people who are very supportive of ALEH. I will make it a priority to share what I have seen here today with our constituents across the UK so that this support only continues to grow.” ["CHIEF RABBI OF UK VISITS ALEH", May 5, 2017 - from the Aleh website]
He also mentioned the trendy term "disability inclusion". Never mind that, as we all know, inclusion is the diametrical opposite of what Aleh practices.

The icing on this tawdry cake was the announcement [here] that same month of the opening of a new educational and residential wing at Aleh's Jerusalem branch.

So while institutions like Aleh have been made obsolete in the rest of the world, in Israel they are flourishing and expanding. And they are doing so in contravention of the law.

At around the time that Aleh was boasting and expanding, another institution was in the news too.

Last week, a shocking undercover video clip from the Feuerstein Institute's hostel for disabled and cognitively challenged adults in the Ein Karem section of Jerusalem made waves in the world of disabilities. Residents come from locations throughout Israel and suffer from conditions including cognitive and developmental disabilities, behavioral and emotional impairments, Down Syndrome and more.

As a result of the exposure on Israeli TV news (via hidden-camera reporting), we now know that residents are horribly victimized verbally and physically.

Some excerpts I picked up from watching:
  • "Animal! Pig!" shouts one caregiver at a resident. "No more shouting! The only one allowed to shout here is me!"
  • A caregiver is asked by a young female resident: "Can I have another portion?" He replies: "You'll get a beating! What portion? You'll get a beating! Really a portion!"
  • A resident is warned: "Keep eating! If not, I'll come and hit you."
The news item said employees at the hostel told journalists they had reported the abusive behavior of their Feuerstein hostel colleagues to superiors but were threatened with retribution if they pursued the matter. The parents, they related, are also afraid to speak up because "there is a correlation between parents who complain about the situation and the residents who suffer."

That is surely a quandary facing parents of children in any closed institution.

Notwithstanding, two parents of children who were in Aleh institutions - one in a day program, the other in a residential one - have recently contacted me to share their bitter experiences. They paint a picture of life there that is a far cry from the one that the Chief Rabbi extolled.

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