Bira Kadima: Taking steps for Israelis with cerebral palsy - with beer

CEO Guy Salomon began thinking about his hobby of beer-making and wondered if this fairly simple and straightforward process might have potential as a job for program participants. 

 BIRA KADIMA’S labeling process.  (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)
BIRA KADIMA’S labeling process.
(photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

On a rainy Jerusalem morning, several small rooms in a nondescript building complex in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem are bustling with activity. A group of young men and women, all with cerebral palsy and other motor disabilities – many seated in wheelchairs – are loud and animated as they discuss the Israeli artist of the day, Shlomi Shabat, in their mifgash tarbut (cultural meeting) class. One young man playfully notes that the Turkish treats they will soon prepare in honor of Shabat’s Turkish heritage are different from the treats his own Turkish mother prepares.

Welcome to Tsad Kadima’s (A Step Forward) Adult Day Center in Jerusalem and its national headquarters. The award-winning nonprofit, founded in 1987 by parents of children with cerebral palsy, operates in five other cities – Beersheba, Eilat, Rishon Lezion, Ness Ziona and Or Akiva.

Tsad Kadima utilizes the Conductive Education, or Peto, approach, which was developed at the Peto Institute in Hungary in the 1940s. The approach involves participants specifically learning to perform actions that those without disabilities learn naturally through life experiences. Children with disabilities are encouraged to be problem solvers and develop a self-reliant personality that fosters participation, initiative, determination, motivation, independence and self-sufficiency.

While the mifgash tarbut group is learning about Shabat, a team of talented musicians is working in an adjoining room with Boaz Reinschreiber, a music teacher and designer of the Arcana. This unique instrument uses a joystick and produces sounds like a guitar so that people with motor disabilities can compose and play music. 

“I didn’t know what cerebral palsy was,” says Reinschreiber as he reflects on his first experience helping a girl with motor disabilities who was interested in finding a way to actively experience music. “I saw Gil’s ambition and desire to play. There were no solutions, but I wanted to find something. I saw how accurate she was with a joystick on her wheelchair.” 

 PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS and staff label beer bottles. (credit: HOWARD BLAS) PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS and staff label beer bottles. (credit: HOWARD BLAS)

Reinschreiber and his colleagues created what would become Arcana, which is catching on in Israel and throughout Europe as a useful music education tool for disabled and non-disabled musicians. 

Sarah Morgan, 29, a participant who has difficulties producing clear, easy to understand speech but has incredible passion and enthusiasm, is sitting in her wheelchair at the back of the culture class, describing her experience as a student at David Yellin College of Education. Morgan studies side by side with non-disabled students in the special education college program. 

Hadassah Diner, director of the Jerusalem Adult Day Center, who is accustomed to Sarah’s speech and helped clarify certain words for this reporter, says, “It is fun to learn in a group. You feel part of the group.... Sarah loves learning! When she came to the center, she was scared about learning. Now she is happy and challenged intellectually and is enjoying classes and forming friendships.”

“The participants are learning to be more active in life – not only physically but mentally as well. The goal is to be integrated in society and take part in the community.”

Guy Salomon

The activities and program are a success

CEO GUY SALOMON is pleased with the activities and programs taking place in the building, in the community and throughout the country. “The participants are learning to be more active in life – not only physically but mentally as well. The goal is to be integrated in society and take part in the community.” Tsad Kadima strives to develop independence and successful mainstreaming into society while offering necessary environmental supports. 

While Salomon is reluctant to take credit for what has now become an integral part of the program, one of his ideas has helped create jobs, raise self-esteem and create a buzz in the local community and throughout Israel. Salomon began thinking about his hobby of beer-making and wondered if this fairly simple and straightforward process might have potential as a job for program participants. 

“I do beer at home and thought it would be easy,” Salomon recounts. Thus Bira Kadima was born, joining the many microbreweries that have been springing up across the country since 2011. “At first, I thought it would be an easy job to learn, since it involves working in a certain order. We discovered that it was tasty, and the outcome was good!” 

Once participants were off and running with their beer-making, a local Jerusalem bar agreed to offer space for two hours on a Friday afternoon where participants could host parents and sample the beer their children had brewed. “It was amazing – it was the first time participants ever sat with their parents over a beer,” reports Salomon. 

While the response to Bira Kadima from participants, parents and the community has been positive, the staff has encountered a number of challenges with the beer-making operation. Ruti Cohen, an occupational therapist who has been part of the Tsad Kadima program since 2013, runs Bira Kadima. “It is still very challenging.” She notes that it has been difficult finding a role that is a good fit for each participant. In addition, once a person settles into a specific role, it is hard to offer that role to another participant. Cohen, who has used her expertise as an occupational therapist to create adaptive devices, wishes she had more adaptive machines and equipment for her participants. “We are always finding new ways,” she says. 

EVERY THURSDAY, known as “cooking days,” the fairly simple beer-making process, which goes back 12,000 years, begins. Essentially, water and grain are heated, the mixture is boiled with hops, then cooled, fermented and carbonated. On this day, the first day back after the long (hametz-free) Passover break, some participants start the process of making a Belgian beer by pouring malt and hops and other ingredients into a big pot in the center of the room. 

Others retrieve older cold beer from a small keg in the refrigerator and fill bottles. Additional team members paste labels on the bottles. They will produce 50 bottles a day and have thus far produced five varieties of beer.

Ayelet Hazout, 41, a resident of Katamon, has a specially designed bottle holder attached to her wheelchair. She uses her chair and adaptive device to transport bottles from the filling team to the labeling team. “I love to [make] beer because it is fun,” she says. 

Some participants also work on publicity and marketing by regularly posting about Bira Kadima on Instagram and Facebook. The staff is proud of how much of the beer-making process is done by the participants. “We work hard to make the process their beer and not us getting involved.” The staff assists throughout the entire process but does not offer more support than necessary. 

The staff has enjoyed watching the excitement and joy that comes from earning a salary. “The money goes to them!” says Cohen. Staff members were particularly proud as they watched group members discuss what to do with their first paycheck. “They wanted us to buy gift cards for them so they could buy coffee and cake for the team,” Cohen says.

Diner is pleased with how far the beer-making program has come and how well Bira Kadima fits in with the overall approach and philosophy of the program. She adds somewhat playfully and somewhat seriously, “We essentially made it up as we went along.” They asked participants if they would be interested in beer-making, and participants and the staff – new to beer-making – learned processes as they proceeded. 

Looking back, Diner is pleased with the industry they essentially arrived at by chance and looks forward to the continued expansion of Bira Kadima. “It allows participants to be active and as autonomous as possible while providing a service to people and being part of a social environment. And beer-making is so down to earth!”

According to Benjy Maor, director of resource development, Tsad Kadima operates in its current space and rents an apartment in Jerusalem to provide training for independent living in the community. The organization has received land from the Jerusalem Municipality in the Mekor Haim neighborhood to build its own home, in partnership with the Jerusalem Foundation, which will house all aspects of the program. Bira Kadima hopes to move to a larger facility and expand its successful beer-making operation. ❖

To learn more about the therapeutic home-brewing workshop: