When I first came to Israel in 1980, it was understood that Israel was at least 20 years behind America in dress, consumerism, advertising, you name it. Movies arrived on Israeli screens a year or two later. For me it was a huge attraction. Israel’s “backwardness” was just what I came for – Zionism, Socialism, Jewish Nationalism – I was 17 and I loved those isms.

Well, I don’t need to tell you that Israel has caught up and in fact leads the world in so many areas. I’m proud of what Israel has accomplished even though I’m oh, so sorry those malls followed me here.

There is one area though where Israel remains painfully behind. And that is government policy regarding people with special needs. I’ve been gathering information as I knock on doors trying to get some government backing for the organization I co-founded, Shutaf – Inclusion Programs for Kids with Special Needs.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

  1. There are three branches of the welfare ministry that deal with the special needs population and they don’t speak to each other much. They are retardation, autism and all the rest under the heading of shikum or rehabilitation. (Does that assume that retardation and autism are hopeless?)
  2. The welfare ministry gives out monies to organizations to run programs for children according to very strict and outdated criteria.
    1. There is the moadonit or club that MUST meet three times a week.
    2. There are nofshonim or short respite programs where you can park your child with special needs for a long weekend once a year with people he/she has never met before. (Huh? Would you do that? Me neither.)
    3. You have to prove that you have about 5 million shekels in the bank in order to apply to operate these programs.

My particular interest in the Ministry of Welfare is the Agaf Hapigur or Retarded Branch in direct translation. When my daughter with Down syndrome reaches the age of 18 she’ll be given a Kartis Mefager or Retard Card. We just can’t wait. Did I say outdated? Then she’ll be entitled to be considered for programs that Shekel runs and are partially funded by the Ministry of Welfare – per person, per disability, inadequately.

Or maybe we’ll apply to Akim. They receive their government funds from the government by LAW. They were here first and were lucky enough to make that little arrangement. They do some great work. But their approach is outdated and they’re not interested in cooperating with other amutot. They don’t have to. They get their funds by LAW, no matter what.

So innovation on the special needs scene here in Israel only happens with money from private donors and foundations. How do you get the government agencies to update? The clerks and their higher ups – they’re worn out. They don’t want to read all those applications, visit all those small programs, think creatively, be professional and consider promoting changes in government policy. They say that’s the parents’ job. After all, parents of children with special needs have lots of energy and spare time.

By Miriam Avraham, Shutaf Co-Founder