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June 22, 2012

Why We are Going to Israel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/why_we_are_going_to_israel_20120622/

“It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” (Mishna, Ethics, 2:21)

On March 7, 1949, my parents were married in Israel, an idealistic young American couple intent on helping to “build up the land” as the lyrics to a then-popular song intoned. The two had meet through the Labor Zionist movement in Pittsburgh and despite the misgivings of their respective families, they were determined to help make a difference at a crucial time in Jewish history. They lived and worked at Kibbutz Kfar Blum and Kibbutz Habonim and eventually moved back to the U.S. years before my sister and I were born (another story for another time).

And now, some 63 years later, I am co-chairing (with my good friend Judy Mark, and the parent of a teen with autism), a truly groundbreaking trip to Israel that gets underway on July 20th. Sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, this is the first trip of its kind to bring together over 35 parents, high-level professionals and teens/young adults with autism to visit innovative residential and vocational programs for adults in Israel, with the express goal of coming back to Los Angeles and replicating some of those models locally.

Although a small country, Israelis have created a whole slew of really creative programs for adults with a range of developmental disabilities (and other disabilities too). In that “start-up” nation, good ideas are quickly put into action, and often without the red tape we encounter in the States. Although the trip is seven days, it is still going to be a major challenge for us to squeeze in visits to all the potential places we could see.

One of the places we will be visiting is Kishorit, an integrative community of 140 staff, volunteers and adults with mental/developmental disabilities which has numerous micro-enterprises on site including prize-winning dog breeding. Although technically not a “kibbutz’ in pure economic terms, it operates similar to kibbutizim with a communal dining room and each person making their own contribution for the good of the whole community.

Three years ago, we visited Kishorit as a family and I was awed and inspired by what I saw – a true community of residents and staff, living and working together for shared goals, and set in the most beautiful hillside, with flowers and shady trees every where you look. All that is missing is a pool, and that’s part of the future plans.

We will also visit the Kamah Association at Kibbutz Harduf, which offers a “community within a community” with 65 adults with developmental disabilities living among the typical residents of the kibbutz, with vocational training and work opportunities on site. Other visits include models of independent, supportive and inclusive residential options, along with many types of work training and employment. A special highlight will be meeting with representatives of Israeli Defense Forces who have created a new program to include Israelis with autism in the service.

When we return to Los Angeles, I’m sure we will be both exhausted and energized by what we have seen, and then we will turn to the hard work of building and expanding programs here, so that our children will have the same array of choices as their Israeli peers when they reach adulthood.

You can follow along our trip with daily blog posts at www.jewishla.org, and for a quick preview, read about our recent pre-trip bus tour of innovative programs in the San Fernando Valley

We are building together!

 

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