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Herzliya Mayor Yael German on Monday became the first acting mayor to receive the Award for Excellence from Akim, the association for the rehabilitation of the mentally handicapped.
The award was conferred on her at the opening of the annual Akim fund-raising campaign at Beit Hanassi.
German, who was described as a role-model public servant and an inspiration to others, was honored for her steadfast commitment to integrating children and adults with developmental disabilities into mainstream society.
In 2005, German stood up against 31 locals in a Herzliya Pituah neighborhood in a legal battle for the right to build a residential facility for semi-independent adult Akim clients.
More than that, once the facility was built, she made it her business to get to know all the residents and to ensure that their rights were protected and that their potential in the arts and the workplace could be realized.
German has also worked toward making all public buildings in Herzliya accessible to the physically challenged, and has also been fighting cellular companies that want to put up additional antennas, which she believes would be detrimental to the general well-being of the population.
The two other recipients of the Award of Excellence were Naomi Hasson, who with her late husband set up the Ramat Hasharon branch of Akim, and built a warm and welcoming home for mentally challenged adults; and David Sitt, the president of the Mexican Friends of Akim, who has donated generously and found new donors in Mexico, the US and Israel.
The Akim credo is to love all human beings as God made them, regardless of any special needs that they might have.
There are Akim volunteers in the army who fought hard to be accepted and won the right to serve their country. There are Akim workers in many fields of industry, and most have a strong work ethic and are extremely dedicated to their jobs.
Akim clients have proved themselves in the visual and performing arts as well.
One of them, Ofer Aharon, sang a duet with professional Mizrahi singer Kobi Aflalo at the campaign opening on Monday. Aflalo sang the harmony in a very soft voice so as to give the limelight to Aharon, who received a thunderous ovation.
Acting Akim chairman Amikam Raz said that it was one of the great dreams of the association to rid Israeli society of the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome.
"We want society to realize that all people are born equal and have the right to self-fulfillment. We don't want society to judge people by their looks or their abilities, but by the beauty of their souls."
Raz said that his great hope was that all children, from the earliest possible age, would be taught to accept children with special needs without discrimination and with respect for the right of the other to be different.
Coming from as far south as Dimona and as far north as Tiberius, those present represented a broad strata of society economically, religiously, ethnically and socially. Their common denominator was a mentally handicapped relative or professional or voluntary work to improve the quality of life of the mentally disabled.
President Shimon Peres more or less paraphrased the powerful speech
that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Shylock in The Merchant of
when he said: "A person with functional difficulties has a
heart, a soul, feelings and basic needs which are no different from
those of anyone else. He feels pain and happiness, despondency and
delight, sadness and joy. He knows how to cry and he knows how to laugh
and he knows very well what the difference is between love and
friendship and alienation and rejection."
Peres was lavish in his praise of Akim professionals and volunteers and
their associates for what they are doing to advance the rights and
dignity of the mentally challenged, and urged everyone in Israel to
open their hearts and their pockets and to align themselves with this