Jewish Journal


January 6, 2000

Finding Independence

The Etta Israel Group Home helps developmentally disabled adults reach their full potential


For the first time in Los Angeles history, a Jewish home for the developmentally disabled is opening. Situated in North Hollywood, the home, under the supervision of the Etta Israel Center, will house six males in their mid-20s.

The Etta Israel Center, founded in 1992 to provide a wide range of special education services to Jews in the Los Angeles area, plans on opening the home to residents by March 1, 2000, according to Executive Director Michael Held, Ph.D.

Held also said that Etta Israel is a pioneer in the residential aspect of a group home, giving the developmentally disabled Jewish community an orthodox home where they can function as individuals, adults and Jews.

"The first of many [goals] is to enable the residents to have a functional and Jewish enriched life," said Held.

To enable the men to reach their potential, Held said they are creating a natural setting in the house and involving residents in all aspects of housework. Each will work dependent on his range of abilities, supervised by a 24-hour staff. Held added that in keeping with Jewish tradition, the home will be fully kosher and shomer Shabbos. The house is also accessible to synagogues, the North Hollywood Jewish Community Center and a large portion of the San Fernando Valley's Jewish community.

The men that will be chosen for the home are all attendees of a state-funded group called Sheltered Workshop, where they work with counselors and job coaches to get hands-on training for the work force. Once placed in the home, the resident may choose to stay in the program or work for employers in the North Hollywood area at establishments such as Home Depot, bakeries and supermarkets.

"People who did not think they would [function], say wow, who knew," Held said. "There is no ceiling for potential, and we don't believe in limiting."

The six residents of the home are chosen from the 22 people on Etta Israel's waiting list and the dozens more on waiting lists throughout the Los Angeles area.

"Preference is given to individuals who have been with Etta Israel for the past seven years," said Held, who added that the center is focusing on homes for this age group because the children and teens they worked with since their inception have grown up and are looking for more independence.

One man anxious for his independence is 24-year-old Mark Silberstein. Although Silberstein's father is a member of Etta Israel's Board of Directors, Held said there was no preferential treatment, only that he was the right age with the right disabilities for the setting.

"He is very excited," said Linda Silberstein, Mark's mother. "He has always wanted to move away like his siblings."

The Silbersteins feel that this home represents progress for the Jewish community -- in such a large Jewish city as Los Angeles it is crucial to have such facilities. They're nervous about their son leaving home, but said they believe the home will be very successful.

"This has taken a long time to get off the ground," Linda said. "But there has been so much preparation and such good people at the helm, and Etta Israel is a great place. This is a model for the entire Jewish community."

The group home has indeed taken a while to get underway, according to Rae Klaus of the group Haverim. Klaus said in the past Haverim has attempted a number of times to put together such a project but has been unsuccessful. The group has a supported living program where the developmentally disabled live alone in apartments with a 24-hour staff, but no group homes.

"I'm glad to see Etta Israel is doing this," Klaus said.

The Etta Israel Center hopes to have their second home, for girls, opened within a year of this house said Held, adding they want to continue opening new homes every year.

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