Youth rally for mentally disabled rights

45.2% of the population would never even consider purchasing a property if it was in the same building as an already existing hostel.

disabled child 88 (photo credit: Alyn)
disabled child 88
(photo credit: Alyn)
More than 50 percent of the population believes that if a hostel or group home for the mentally retarded opened in their neighborhood, it would dramatically reduce the value of their property, according to a new survey released Sunday by social activist group Ma'aglei Tzedek (Circle of Justice). The results of the survey, which questioned more than 500 Israelis of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, also discovered that 45.2% of the population would never even consider purchasing a property if it was in the same building as an already existing hostel. "It is not acceptable, that in a Jewish country, people treat others in this way," said Assaf Banner, director of Ma'aglei Tzedek, a nonprofit organization founded two years ago to promote a just society in accordance with the values of Judaism. "People must accept those who are different from them. It is not right that people won't allow someone different from them to live nearby." The survey results were released so as to coincide with a demonstration in support of the rights of Israel's disabled community, which took place Sunday night in Holon. Ma'aglei Tzedek organized the event in conjunction with Garin Nahshon, a project of the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva, as well as several other social rights organizations and youth movements. "The younger generation gathered together to listen and learn about this subject," said Banner, adding that more than 400 youths attended the rally, as well as many more concerned community members. In addition to the representatives from Ma'aglei Tzedek, individuals with disabilities also took the stage to tell their side of the story and convince the public of their right to live among the community. Holon was chosen for the rally because less than two months ago intolerant neighbors set fire to a hostel for mentally retarded people just prior to its opening. Rahel Mizrachi, the mother of 22-year-old Liran, who was scheduled to move into the hostel when the fire broke out, said Sunday that she hoped the rally would teach younger generations to be more accepting of residences such as the one where her daughter was now living. Mizrachi said that her daughter and 13 other individuals had moved into the hostel a month ago and that, since the initial incident, the neighbors had been very friendly. "The neighbors suddenly started being nice," she said. "We held a meeting in the community center beforehand, where local residents could meet the members of the hostel. That really helped, and so did all the coverage on TV following the arson attack." "There will always be people [with disabilities] in the world," continued Mizrachi. "Their problems will never go away, so we need to make sure others learn to live with them." Information from Akim, the association for the rehabilitation of the mentally handicapped, suggests that there are upwards of 30,000 people with mild to severe mental retardation in Israel today. According to figures published on the Social Welfare Ministry's Web site, there are currently 2,000 people with mild to medium mental disabilities living in an assortment of apartments, hostels and group homes within communities, and a further 6,400 people living in 58 larger institutions countrywide.