Haredim no longer hide their disabled children

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni: Ultra-Orthodox will no longer sweep those with special needs under the carpet.

MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector is giving up its shame about its physically and disabled children and will no longer sweep those with special needs under the carpet, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said Monday.
Gafni was speaking at the first-of-its-kind conference of Kamocha – the roof body of religious and haredi voluntary organizations that work with disabled children and young adults.
He said at the Jerusalem International Convention Center that an about-face has taken place in the observant community, especially among haredim who worried that a special needs child in the family would make it difficult for siblings to find arranged-marriage partners.
The current attitude, he said, is that they were born in God’s image and have a soul, the haredi MK said.
“We are leading the struggle for this change. We are not ashamed.”
Gafni said the haredi community will be discriminated against in his struggle, but the voluntary organizations will work together, and haredi organizations in the field will “do it better than others. We take secular Jews and traditional Jews and benefit them as well.”
Kamocha represents Alei Siach, Aleh, Petahya, Sulam and other voluntary organizations in the country to meet the needs of the physically and mentally disabled child and young adult. These range from the deaf to those with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities. The conference was initiated and addressed by Rabbi Chaim Perkal, founder and CEO of Alei Siach, the leading outreach organization to the special needs community in the Jerusalem area, who got involved years ago as a result of the births of two disabled children to him and his wife.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who made a brief appearance, said he often visits haredi and modern Orthodox institutions for the disabled and is impressed.
“They are pioneers. They push the public system to do more. At this conference, every organization puts its ego to the side, and they all work together for the cause. They learn from others’ successes, as do people in hitech. With its attention to the individual, the special needs institutions teach a lot to the regular system.”
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said: “Every child is a whole world and has the right to take advantage of his potential with what God gave him. The society is judged according to the way it treats its weakest links.”
He said individuals who work in special education “are special people.”
Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon said he was impressed by the way the haredi community cooperates with his ministry to better their children even when they have long kept their distance from the establishment.
Twenty percent of the ministry’s grants now go to the haredi sector. There are 310,000 children with special needs – 12.8 percent of all Israeli children. Only 25,500 get allotments to help with their disability, and half of their parents say they suffer from worry and anxiety about their care and future.