Photo Credit: Shalva
Back (l-r): Professor Malka Margalit, Peres Academic Center; Yochanan Samuels, Shalva; Professor Arie Rimmerman, Haifa University; Professor Susan Parish, Brandeis University; Dr. Joshua Roose, Australia; Avi Samuels, Shalva. Front: Efrat Dotan, Shalva; Professor Michael Stein, Harvard University.

Shalva, an organization that provides a wide range of free outreach services to the children-with-disabilities community in Jerusalem and beyond, has become a vital lifeline for thousands of Israeli families.

The organization came in for lavish praise earlier this week from an array of academics and social services professionals at an international conference on poverty and disability held at Shalva’s new National Center.

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Brandeis University Professor Susan L. Parish, who heads the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, criticized what she called America’s “antiquated and prejudicial” poverty and disability policies, contrasting them with Shalva’s diversified and cutting-edge programs in Israel.

“In the U.S., they relegate physically and mentally challenged people to inadequate and decrepit facilities,” said Parish. “However, I’ve never seen a building so beautiful as Shalva’s new facility, which is so inspiring.”

Parish charged that “the U.S. safety net for impoverished and disabled people is utterly inadequate and stuck in policies that were set in the 1960s,” adding that “hope for change from Congress or the White House doesn’t look like it will come anytime soon, because we still don’t know what President-elect Donald Trump has in mind for the future of the healthcare system.”

It wasn’t just the U.S. that came in for criticism. Haifa University Professor Arie Rimmerman, who helped put together the conference, blasted Israel’s policies toward impoverished and disabled people of all ages.

“Israel,” he said, “provides far fewer outreach services and assistance to families with special needs children or adults, as compared to countries in Western Europe.”

Rimmerman’s comments were backed up by a report released by Israel’s National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi). Professor Daniel Gottlieb, deputy director general of research and planning at the National Insurance Institute, said that “Unfortunately, we are not better than the U.S. when it comes to offering more services and financial assistance to impoverished and disabled people. We are at the wrong end of the scale and there is a need for change regarding increasing benefits to families with disabled people.”

Said Shalva director Avi Samuels, “Eighty percent of our clients could not afford the services we provide. For twenty-six years, our goal has been to break the cycle of poverty and provide vital, nurturing services to children with disabilities, so that every one of them will have an opportunity to realize their maximum potential in life from infancy through adulthood.

“Just providing an afternoon after-school program for special needs youngsters allows parents to work, create a normal routine at home and allows them to stave off poverty.”

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