The Retard Card

When I first came to Israel 31 years ago it was understood thatIsraelwas 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 The welfare ministry gives out monies to organizations to run programs for children according to very strict and outdated criteria.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 Did I say outdated?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 But their approach is outdated and they’re not interested in cooperating with other amutot.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 inIsraelonly 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.


  • Umm Josh May 30, 2011 22:44

    We’re just hitting this wilderness now–the transition from high school to programs/vocational programs/work/more school/more training….I haven’t got a clue what we’re doing, although Josh wants to do Sherut Leumi, and no one can tell us how to apply or if he qualifies….sigh….

    • bethysteinberg May 31, 2011 15:15

      I know how you feel from other Shutaf parents who’ve expressed concern about these next important steps. We have one graduate who’s doing Sherut Leumi this year. We’d be happy to put you in touch with her. As well, I’d consider speaking to the Feuerstein School which has done a lot to integrate kids with special needs into the army. Let us know.

  • Rabbi Paul Kipnes May 30, 2011 23:15

    I am following, with amazement and sadness, the situation of people with disabilities in Israel. And I am very glad there are people like you who are seeing it, and in time, working to change it.

    • bethysteinberg May 31, 2011 15:17

      Nice to welcome you to the Shutaf blog. I think every country has its challenges with regard to the true inclusion of people with special needs in our community. In Israel there are challenges but the smallness of the country opens doors and that’s a big help. Come and visit Shutaf on your next trip to Israel. Consider a Shutaf visit to your community – let’s expand the conversation about inclusion…everywhere.

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