Feature Stories

‘You Are Not Alone’: Uniting Special-Needs Families in Israel

Two mothers, both volunteers, pose for a photo with a staff member at a Tu B'Shvat event held at JDC's All In The Family center in Be'er Sheva, Israel. The facility helps bring together families with special-needs children.

Raising a special-needs child can put a strain on even the strongest of families. The experience can be isolating, financially stressful, all-consuming.

For families in this situation, having a place to connect with other parents in similar circumstances is crucial – and no one knows this better than “Shira,” “Dalia,” and “Tamar,” three mothers of special-needs children in Be'er Sheva.

The three women are among the many parents who frequent JDC’s All In The Family centers, which provide a home base for families of children with disabilities, a social and community gathering place full of activities throughout the year.

Events at the centers include support groups, workshops, and lectures aimed at family members like parents, siblings and grandparents. The centers also provide information and support assistance for parents struggling to navigate bureaucracy in an effort to maximize benefits for their families.

Currently, there are four centers operating in Israel, each serving between 100 and 300 families, depending on the size of the region. The centers serve families of children with mental, physical, and developmental challenges, as well as those on the autism spectrum.

The centers are an initiative of JDC’s strategic partnership Ashalim, the Association for Planning & Development of Services for Children and Youth at Risk & Their Families — founded by JDC, the Government of Israel, and UJA-Federation of New York.

They are among the new services that JDC is introducing in Israel to support and protect children, youth, and young adults at risk. Other programs include formal education initiatives, youth entrepreneurship and employment programming, alternative learning spaces, community-building models, and programs that help engender safe home environments and healthy relationships between parents and children.

A recent Tu B’Shvat celebration in Be’er Sheva organized by Shira, Dalia, and
Tamar drew 40 families who prepared fruit salads, enjoyed dried fruit, planted flowers at the center, and made arts and crafts. A photographer was on hand to snap pictures and print them on magnets for the happy families to take home as souvenirs.

“The atmosphere was so special, so together, holy even,” Dalia said.

Dalia volunteers at the center organizing family activities with other parents. She has a 12-year-old daughter with a rare genetic illness, and put her daughter’s care first. Over the years, she has had to cut back her work hours, and most recently, Dalia stopped working altogether as her daughter’s needs increased.

Now, her volunteering role has become even more meaningful to her.

"The opportunity to organize activities at these centers gives the parents strength,” said Michal Cohen-Hattab, JDC’s program manager. “They put their talents and skills to use to give to others and create memorable and joyful experiences.”

A new addition to the All In the Family center in Be’er Sheva was a Peruvian immigrant family with three children, one of whom has special needs. They heard about this new service from other families at their son’s special-needs kindergarten and decided to attend. They were welcomed with open arms and told Shira, Dalia, and Tamar they plan to return frequently.

The three women were initially worried the Tu B’shvat event would draw a small turnout, but after seeing 150 happy attendees, they say they’re anxious to begin planning a Purim event for March.

The All In The Family centers are run in partnership with JDC, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health, local municipalities, and the non-profit associations Kesher, AKIM, and Ezer Mizion.

All In The Family centers are generously supported by the UJA-Federation of New York, Federation CJA -- Montreal, and the Linda and Stuart Nord Family Foundation via the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Tags for this story: Families, Children, Disabilities

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