Fathers Connect with their Special-Needs Kids in Israel

June 10, 2015


The “Tzamid Ramla” group is the first of its kind in the adjacent Israeli cities of Lod and Ramla – pioneering sensitive and caring outreach to the parents of children with special needs.

Also known as _____é_â_Ð, an acronym for special needs in Hebrew, the weekly group brings together parents from all walks of life — Jews and Arabs, religious and secular — as well as a handful of social workers and other professionals.

Begun as a way to provide parents with the tools necessary to navigate the complicated bureaucracy of services and agencies assisting children with special needs, Tzamid Ramla soon became a sort of support group, as the parents involved became good friends, quick with a laugh or to listen to each other’s stories.

“At first it was hard to get people to come to the meetings. Everyone had their own obligations and many parents are working multiple jobs to make ends meet,” said Merav Orenstein, a social worker and the group’s coordinator. “But slowly, by word of mouth, we’ve gathered more participants. Groups like this are important when you’re trying to navigate the world of special education and social benefits.”

Each parent has at least one child with special needs — either physical, emotional, or intellectual challenges, said Orenstein, also the project manager for Ramla’s Better Together program, JDC’s comprehensive community initiative for children and youth at risk.

“Each child has his or her own needs and requirements,” she said. “Our group is here to help these parents and children receive the services they deserve.”

Bader, one of two fathers in the group, is a construction worker and father of eight, living in Ramla’s Arab community. His eldest son, 19, had special needs — problems with hearing and vision, as well as cognitive difficulties that can make it challenging for him to navigate social situations.

Joining the group wasn’t just about helping his son and learning how to be a better father to him, Bader said — it was a chance to serve as an example for other families in his Israeli Arab community, encouraging them to participate.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to come to these things. But I want to do it for my son,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re here to improve our kids’ lives, to learn how we can help them reach their potential.”

Bader said the group has given him possible strategies for improving his relationship with his son and for helping his other children more positively interact with their brother.

As a group, the Tzamid Ramla parents have successfully organized informal enrichment and youth activities for children with special needs in town. Bader is especially proud of the planning underway by the parents for a public event in Ramla to foster conversation and create an open dialogue between the special needs community and the larger community.

He’s hoping the word of the group’s work will reach to other cities.

“There’s so many people who can benefit from this kind of support,” he said.

Like Bader, many parents of children with special needs who participate in JDC’s family-oriented programs around the country describe similar experiences. By joining Tzamid peer support or parent leadership groups, parents not only receive support but also are able to help others.

“Professionals in Israel today are recognizing that parents have unique knowledge about raising a child with special needs and have power when they organize together. The involvement of fathers like Bader is something we strive for since they often are left out of the discussion,” said Michal Golan, the head of JDC’s program area for children with special needs. “In Ramla, Bader is an example to other fathers of how to bring about change for children with special needs — within his own family and in the broader community.”

JDC’s family-oriented programs for families of children with special needs are generously supported by UJA-Federation of New York and other donors.

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