For 30-year-old Israeli couple Lior and Lotem, who met on a dating website, Valentine’s Day is especially meaningful as it marks Lotem’s birthday, which is also the same day the couple got engaged. Lior, who works at a pharmacy, and Lotem, who works at her father’s business, were married this past September in an emotional ceremony with 300 guests in attendance.
Although they have opposite personalities — Lotem spunky and outspoken and Lior soft spoken and shy — they are both people with disabilities who wanted to take the next step in their life together by moving into their own apartment.
But first they needed to convince Lotem’s parents and Lior’s group home not only that their love was real, but that together they could navigate challenges including affording to live independently in Israel’s pricey rental market, and facing stigmas still surrounding people with disabilities in Israel.
Today, almost half of Israel’s general population are not willing to live next to someone with a mental illness, cognitive disabilities, or autism, and are also unwilling to rent their apartment to a person with these types of disabilities. These statistics underline the fact that the services available and the attitudes of many Israelis are not at the level they should be, and there is a clear need for more creative independent housing opportunities for people with disabilities in this country.
That is where Israel Unlimited — JDC’s partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation and Israeli Government to empower Israelis with disabilities and create inclusive communities — comes in. Israel Unlimited’s Supported Housing program enabled Lior and Lotem’s love story to have a happy ending as they were able to move into their own apartment together, and meet individually with a counselor a few times a month to assist them in completing important tasks like managing their finances and caring for the apartment, as well.
“Being independent doesn’t mean living without adequate support. With the right support, thousands of people with disabilities can enjoy freedom, love and fulfillment, like we all wish for ourselves” said Avital Sandler-Loeff, director of Israel Unlimited.
In addition to the support people with disabilities receive through the Supported Housing initiative, Israel Unlimited has also developed another solution for people with disabilities to overcome a major hurdle in living on their own – high rental costs. Through a new partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Construction and Housing, starting in 2018, 25 apartments will be purchased across Israel for Israelis with disabilities who are not eligible for public housing. With this critical assistance, people like Lior and Lotem will be able to rest assured that they can remain in the same apartment for the duration of their adult life, without fearing increasing rental costs, allowing them to build roots and play an active role in their community.
When asked how his life is different since beginning his married life in his own place with his wife, Lior said he loves his new life in the community and is now making key decisions for himself.
“When I was in the group home, somebody always told me what to do and I had to ask permission. Now, I have freedom,” Lior said.
Lior’s words are a reminder that while progress is being made, additional strides in empowering people with disabilities should be made worldwide during this Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.
In celebrating Lior and Lotem’s journey together, we can find the inspiration to do more, and follow their lead.