Realizing her vision

Beit Issie Shapiro's founder Naomi Stuchiner talks about her pioneering journey of helping others

Naomi Stuchiner receives her honorary fellowship at IDC Herzliya (photo credit: OREN SHALEV)
Naomi Stuchiner receives her honorary fellowship at IDC Herzliya
(photo credit: OREN SHALEV)
SOMETIMES YOUR first impression about a place or a person leaves you with a lingering feeling about them. As I walk past the gift shop at Beit Issie Shapiro in Ra’anana, I think about the gift of life – the single most sacred thing in Judaism. Passing the gift shop and into the building I sense a light – a radiant light, the type that a young baby radiates in a crowded room of people.
I am magnetized and curious about how and why this place came into being. So I sit down with the founder, Naomi Stuchiner, and ask about her life and the organization she created.
A quotation Stuchiner lives by hangs in her office. It comes from American football legend Vince Lombardi: “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”
Stuchiner was born in 1947 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was raised by her father and mother, the late Issie and Lucie Shapiro. She was the youngest of three children.
From a young age her father’s kindness, compassion and golden heart for his fellow man and community rubbed off on Naomi and the rest of the family.
Issie Shapiro’s belief that “all people have the right to attain full human potential and dignity” was his foundation to study law and dedicate himself to helping others. It started with the disabled child of a close friend. His friend’s love and commitment for this child was the inspiration behind the establishment of what became the Selwyn Segal Hostel in Johannesburg. It was Shapiro’s belief in humanity and his steadfast will that – against the backdrop of protests by neighbors who were leery about accepting the disabled into their midst – helped found the home which became a sanctuary for the needy and service provider for people with disabilities in the community.
Stuchiner’s involvement in helping others began in her early years in Johannesburg.
“My whole childhood was with the Selwyn Segal,” she tells The Jerusalem Report.
“My father would make kiddush and we would spend shabbatot there. It was part of our lives.”
The time spent there left a deep impression on Stuchiner. She carried these experiences with her through high school at King David Linksfield, and through her college years when she studied social work at the University of Witswatersrand. It was in her third year of studies at university that she met her Israeli husband, Tuvia Stuchiner, while he was traveling in South Africa.
Shortly after marrying Tuvia in 1970 – the couple made aliya and settled in Shikun Bavli in Tel Aviv. Naomi started working in the Hatikva neighborhood in south Tel Aviv – at the time of the rise of the Israeli Black Panthers. Stuchiner got involved in community work, and together with her colleague Esther Tolkin, helped the only community organization in the area provide services on behalf of the Tel Aviv municipality. Under the supervision of Prof. Ben Lappin, they pioneered a system of integral services to foster community-based leadership.
In the mid-1970s, Issie and Lucie Shapiro acquired an apartment in the central Israeli town of Ra’anana. As Stuchiner recalls, “it became an apartment for family members when they made aliya. It was a good base to start in Israel.” Her brother Max soon made aliya and moved into that apartment. Shortly after, Stuchiner and her family moved to Ra’anana. Naomi’s sister Esther soon joined her siblings.
THE LATE Prof. Shamai Davidson, who at the time was the medical director of Shalvata Mental Health Center, coordinated with Stuchiner as well as with Lappin to set up the first community-based psychiatric service unit in Israel as a branch of Shalvata. It was called The Community Mental Health Unit situated at Kupat Holim Hanotrim in Ra’anana.
Stuchiner recounts, “My father was a born Zionist; he truly loved Israel.” In 1977, Issie and Lucie Shapiro made aliya and joined their children in Israel. “When my dad came to Israel he had a concern that the services for people with disabilities were not on a level that he thought was adequate. He thought there should be a change,” Naomi recalls.
His vision for change galvanized the family into mirroring the efforts behind Beit Issie Shapiro. “He knew if you want to move a community from one point to another, you have to be focused on your goal, which is giving every person the right to live with their family, providing the best possible services and equal opportunities, which create a community that embraces everyone with disabilities without shunning them,” Stuchiner says.
Issie Shapiro came to Israel with all the experience he acquired in South Africa and a dream to change Israel and better peoples’ lives. In 1980 after writing up a protocol for his new organization, he set out for the United States to raise funds. On a flight from New York to Los Angeles, tragedy struck when Shapiro suffered a heart attack on the plane.
His passing left the whole family in complete shock. During the shiva (morning period), the Shapiro family, together with Jules and his mother Celia Trump from the US (the late Issie and late Celia Trump were brother and sister), met with a representative of the Welfare Ministry, and immediately started discussing how to continue Issie’s dream of creating a program in Israel for children with disabilities, bringing about much-needed change in the field.
The Trump family’s support since its inception has played a major role in the development of Beit Issie Shapiro, and over the past 36 years Jules and Stephanie Trump, together with their children, have been integrally involved and committed to ensuring Beit Issie’s growth.
The Trump family has played a major philanthropic role in Israel both through its support of Beit Issie Shapiro and many other charities, including Dror for post-psychiatric patients, Bar-Ilan University, and through the Trump Foundation, with a donation of $150 million to improve the quality of math teaching in Israeli high schools.
Within one year after Issie Shapiro’s sudden passing, the family opened Beit Issie Shapiro in a house in Herzliya. In the beginning, there were 16 children. The program was designed as a counter to the institutionalizion of children with disabilities. The aim was for parents to bring up their kids at home but use Beit Issie Shapiro as auxiliary support in order to provide their children with anything they might need. It gave parents their right to bring up their children without shame, proudly and happily under their own roof.
STUCHINER SPELLS it out. “It means providing model services, it means training professional people as well as changing legislation and attitudes in the community.
It means a whole new community-based infrastructure.
That’s what we did and continue to do at Beit Issie Shapiro.” She continues, “We wanted only the best standards of services here. What I would give to my children children would be the baseline of what I would give to the children at Beit Issie Shapiro.”
It started with hiring top people, who collaborated with universities. They then decided to create a research department at Beit Issie, which constantly assesses programs and progress made for continual improvement in all fields. Bringing in a coalition of other NGOs was also necessary to change legislation and streamline services.
Beit Issie has faced many challenges from all spheres including ingrained social stigmas.
But it has seen tremendous progress.
“We did integration programs with children with and without disabilities. We developed occupational therapy sessions for children. My husband, Tuvia (Saba Tuvia as the kids know him), has been responsible for developing the first hydrotherapy center for children with disabilities as well as a swimming program for babies,” Stuchiner says.
“If you think about what each child needs in order to grow – that is what we try and get here. For instance, we have our own dental clinic, which provides for the needs of all the kids. It’s not just a regular dental clinic, it has everything from administering general anesthetics to offering orthodontics and implants.
“Everything we set up we make sure is tested, researched and then approved by the government.”
Another truly fascinating program is Beit Issie Shapiro’s Snoezelen (multi-sensory) therapy, which is used as a treatment modality for people with developmental disabilities, as well as for patients in facilities treating Alzheimer’s, cancer and PTSD. Beit Issie set up the first room and there are over 400 of these rooms today in Israel.
SINCE ITS establishment 36 years ago, Beit Issie Shapiro has changed the lives of millions.
It now provides services for 30,000 people annually. Such reach has impacted so many that Beit Issie Shapiro serves as a consultant to the UN Social and Economic Council. With regard to consulting and coalitions with other NGOs, Stuchiner follows her principles. “If we have something new and others can learn from it, we have to share that knowledge.”
Stuchiner has truly become a beacon for social entrepreneurship. Her work is exemplary and for this she was recently awarded the Wind Annual Social Entrepreneurship Award and named Honorary Fellow of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
As we stand up from the interview and walk around Beit Issie Shapiro, I ask Stuchiner about the future.
“My 13 grandchildren keep me busy and my amazing husband, who has been by my side for the last 47 plus years, helps me. I feel I want to take my message and continue sharing it with others.”
It is my last impression, though, that stays with me. As I leave the playground on that hot summer’s day at Beit Issie Shapiro I meet a young boy named Guy.
As his mom puts braces on his legs, he gives me a big smile. Sometimes a smile is a type of light that words just can’t describe.
“It has always been about the kids,” Stuchiner says, smiling too.