During the summer of 2002 I wrote hopefully in The Jewish Press about Sulam, a special education network in Jerusalem. At that time, I reminded my readers that as life had become increasingly difficult for Israelis in general, it had become even more difficult for the country’s developmentally disadvantaged Jewish children. Burdened with a wide variety of handicaps ranging from Down Syndrome and Autism to learning problems, these children continue to have precious few places to which they and their families can turn for help.
One such place – a very special place – is Sulam. Founded in Jerusalem in 1981, its educational program is structured so that each child is based in a small supportive group and receives occupational, speech, physical, music, animal and art therapies according to individually tailored program plans. Requiring many trained staff members – psychologists, social workers, teachers, therapists, and others – Sulam’s mission is to enable children with Special Needs to reach the highest quality of life that is possible for them to achieve.
This is accomplished in Sulam’s pre-nursery center, in its kindergartens, in its integrated nursery and kindergarten classes; in an innovative and new elementary school for developmentally delayed girls; in an ongoing program providing individual counseling as well as support groups for parents and siblings; in seminars for high-school students; in a play center for special needs children and in a special education pedagogical center currently under construction.
But Sulam is now in special trouble. Hammered with new budget cuts from the government (in total, it has been cut approximately $55,000.00), all therapies and programs for the 223 children will soon be slashed unless there is outside help. With this in mind, I now call upon all of us in America’s Jewish communities to help make up the difference. It would be inexcusable for us to do otherwise.
The Ministry of Education had recently promised that there would be no budget cuts for teachers’ salaries in special education networks. Yet, after Sulam had its teachers’ contracts drawn up and signed for the entire current academic year – contracts based squarely on the Ministry of Education’s salary scale – Sulam received notice that these allocations were being reduced. There is more. Afternoon programs were cut by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. This means that school runs until 1:00 p.m., and that only a tiny fraction of students will be eligible for funding to attend the 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. program. For some of the Sulam children, especially those who come from dysfunctional homes, this will represent not only a lost opportunity, but also a tangible danger. These children will be left to roam the streets, at risk for abuse as well as terror.
It gets even worse. Although the government spent tens of thousands of dollars for Shimon Peres’ lavish birthday party, it has substantially cut funds at Sulam for infant early-intervention therapies. Sadly, the weakest and most helpless Jewish babies are the hardest hit of all. Simultaneously, the medical insurance funds (Kupot Cholim) are lowering their coverage of therapies for babies with special needs.
What, exactly, has been accomplished over the years at Sulam? Here, children who couldn’t talk began to speak. Babies who had remained curled up in a ball learned to sit, crawl and walk. Presently 40% of the children who complete Sulam’s programs are successfully integrated into mainstream educational systems. Yet many children who might have benefitted from Sulam still remain undiagnosed and untreated due to a lack of funds.
To nurture. To cherish. To protect. To build. To sustain life, no matter how fragile or helpless it may appear to be. These were and continue to be Sulam’s goals. Significantly, they are goals that mirror core Jewish values of the entire State of Israel. No wonder, then, that Ehud Olmert has said: “We are very much aware of the importance and contribution of Sulam. I urge each and every one of you to help Sulam help these wonderful children who need someone who cares and someone who loves.”
Sulam means “ladder.” To handicapped children, life often seems to move only uphill. For these children, even the simplest task may feel like climbing a high mountain. Growing to help these children, Sulam opened a new kindergarten class in Beit Shemesh a few years ago, moving its early intervention pre-nursery program to new and larger premises, and adding a sixth grade class to its elementary school for academically challenged girls.
Sulam is a certified Special Education Center supervised by the Ministries of Education, Labor, Social Affairs and Health, as well as the Jerusalem Municipality. These official agencies help to finance Sulam’s programs, but they are able to do less and less. The generosity of private donors is now essential to supplement declining government funds and ensure Sulam’s vital mission. A donation to Sulam is always a gift of a future for a special child in a very special country.
How can we help? Sulam offers a number of ways to assist its children. One program is called “Adopt A Child” for a year for $1200. Funds can also be donated to underwrite a therapy program, provide equipment and accessories, sponsor an educational workshop, or fund a room/wing in the new building. The terrible financial crunch in Israel generated by genocidal Arab terror has greatly reduced funding to Sulam, but the special children shouldn’t have to suffer even more.
Let us in these United States of America not permit Arab terror to succeed in destroying yet another bit of sacred Jewish life in Israel. Let us – each and every one of us – now do whatever we can to preserve and dignify the lives of these children, OUR children. For an American tax deduction, checks can be made payable to American Friends of Sulam. All donations can be sent to: Sulam, P.O.B. 574, Far Rockaway, NY 11691 or directly to Israel at P.O.B. 18206, Jerusalem, Israel 91181. The organization can be contacted by telephone at: 972-2-656-6642. E-mail address is: Sulam@actcom.co.il
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Strategic and Military Affairs Analyst for The Jewish Press.