Gov't signs $6 million deal with private family foundation, JDC

Initiative aims to improve the life of Israel's disabled community.

pushing wheelchair 88 (photo credit: )
pushing wheelchair 88
(photo credit: )
The government on Monday signed a $6 million deal with the US-based Ruderman Family Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to create new services aimed at improving the lives of Israel's disabled population. Called Named Masad Nehuyot in Hebrew - it has yet to receive an official English name - the project involves a $2m. investment from each of the parties, both of which will be involved in the decision-making process along with representatives from the disabled community. "We have brought together many Jewish foundations to work with the Israeli government on projects here but none have been involved in such a high level of partnership," Alan Gill, executive director of international relations for the JDC, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "This is the first time we have created a national contractual partnership in this manner." The four-year partnership, which will directly involve the Ministries of Health and Welfare and Social Services, will initially focus on supporting and developing seven centers for independent living countrywide. It is estimated that 700,000 people between the ages of 20-64 with varying types of disabilities currently live in Israel. Each year, more and more disabled people opt to live independently. "We've been involved in working with special needs children for many years," explained Jay Ruderman, executive director of his family's multi-million dollar charitable trust, regarding the decision to enter such a partnership. "We wanted to be involved in something bigger in Israel, and this initiative will have so much impact on a specific area of society." Ruderman, who made aliya with his family four years ago and now lives in Rehovot, even though the foundation is still based in Boston, added: "Bringing together the government and the JDC to improve the lives of people with disabilities is already a great achievement. We hope this project will raise further awareness in society." According to Tamara Barnea, Director of the JDC's Unit for Disabilities and Rehabilitation, who will head the Masad Nehuyot project, the main aim is to allow individuals with disabilities to impact both their own community and the wider non-disabled community. It will focus on adults with any type of physical, mental or emotional disability. Speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Assisted Living, which Ruderman visited Monday; Barnea said the initial goal was to develop additional centers around the country. "The center in Jerusalem is the first of its kind in Israel," explained Barnea, adding that the center, which opened five years ago in the capital's Katamon neighborhood, was peer-led and provided advice, support and practical training to people with disabilities living independently. "There is one other center in Beersheba, and a new center in Haifa is slated to open this week," she added. "The JDC and the government are strategic partners in this program. We know how to turn pilot projects into long-term sustainable services, but the goal is to include representatives of the disabled community in all our plans." Barnea explained that the Ruderman Family Foundation's experience in developing projects for the disabled in the US would also be an important contribution. "This partnership is vital," commented Moshe Yosef, who sits on the steering committee of the charity Disabled Now, which founded the Jerusalem center. "However, what is more important is that the disabled community is included in the decision-making process." The wheel-chair bound university graduate, who also met Monday with Gill, Ruderman and Barnea, pointed out the charity's slogan, "Nothing about us - without us," and added: "We know better than anyone what is good for us and nothing should be decided without us." Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, who met earlier in the day with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Gill, Ruderman and JDC-Israel Director Arnon Mantver to finalize the deal, touted the arrangement as a "revolution in the treatment of people with disabilities in Israel." "It will also give us the chance to progress professionally with the knowledge and understanding of how to work with and assist the disabled community."