Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: Empowering people with disabilities

#48: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi (photo credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi / Provided by Seeach Sod)
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
(photo credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi / Provided by Seeach Sod)
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is doing for the issue of advancing opportunities for people with disabilities the same as she did for Israel advocacy – making a splash.
The founder of the Israel Project (TIP), which, in the early 2000s, revolutionized the tired and stale hasbara (public diplomacy) models with an injection of start-up ingenuity and model-breaking initiatives, has set her sights on using the same tactics to fight disability stigmas as co-founder of the rising Washington area-based nonprofit RespectAbility.
“For a decade [at TIP], I was involved in the media war to fight to win hearts and minds for peace, coexistence and a better future,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
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“It was a fantastic honor to work alongside such an amazing team and partners. However, after managing a 24/7/365 newsroom in multiple languages for a decade, and with approximately 30 trips to the Middle East as well as to China, Russia and Europe for work, I needed a break. Mostly I needed to be with my family. After I left, I spent a year hugging our kids and learning about disability issues.”
TIP carried on for another seven years without Mizrahi, before closing its doors this year. After her own sabbatical year, Mizrahi, whose background is strategic communication, was inspired by other members of the Jewish Funders Network, in which she is active, to work full-time on disability issues.
Mizrahi serves as president of RespectAbility, which focuses on disability policy, advocacy and empowerment of individuals with disabilities, promoting their independence, particularly in the domain of employment.
The high-powered Mizrahi, who is dyslexic and has ADHD, has submitted testimony on people with disabilities in every US state and on the federal level, has met one-on-one with 48 of America’s governors, and her team cochairs a task force of more than 120 disability organizations on jobs for people with disabilities.
“While we technically are not a Jewish organization and serve everyone, we are founded on the basis of the Jewish principle of tikkun olam,” said Mizrahi, and in order to have an impact, she makes sure there’s a big bang behind RespectAbility’s work. She outlines the organization’s goals as fighting stigmas through inclusion, enabling people with disabilities to succeed and training people with disabilities for leadership roles.
“Our work has been seen on page 1 of The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other outlets. We are currently working behind the scenes on more than 20 different TV series as well. We have been especially involved in the creation and promotion of Emmy-winning Born This Way, which stars seven diverse people with Down Syndrome,” she said.
“I didn’t start to learn to read until I was 12. And yet I’ve been active in Jewish life my whole life. Why shouldn’t Jews with physical, cognitive, sensory, mental health and other disabilities contribute to making the world a better place, just like anyone else?”
With Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi in the driver’s seat, that rhetorical question already has an answer and a solution in action.