July 22, 2009

'HaMasad': National Initiative for Israelis with Special Needs

In this briefing, Steve Schwager, CEO shares some exciting news about a new partnership that will benefit Israelis with special needs.

People often ask me what I like best about working at JDC. I respond with the following observation: JDC is large enough so that there is much to do for our people, but small enough so that with a little effort, you can change a single person’s life wherever on the globe they live. My well-used example is Klara Kogan, a 102-year-old woman in Kishinev, Moldova who is alive today only because of JDC.

Recently, Alan Gill, the head of our Global Resource Development efforts, sent me his story. I share it with you below:

A number of years back, I was walking down Emek Refaim St., the bustling little artery of our Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka/German Colony, when I saw a woman about my age coming towards me, strapped into a motorized wheelchair. As we approached one another, our eyes met and we smiled; then, for some reason, we slowed down and stopped to chat. We introduced ourselves—her name was Daniella. We learned that we both lived in the neighborhood and she asked me where my children went to school. When I mentioned the name of my daughter’s high school, Daniella started grilling me in not atypical Israeli assertive fashion as to the quality of the school’s education, the nature of the student body, the passion of the principal and teachers.

I asked Daniella why she was so interested in this particular school. She told me that she had a daughter and was thinking of sending her there when she reached high school age. I must have looked a bit surprised for she then said something akin to, “You didn’t know that a quadriplegic woman could have children, did you?” I was embarrassed and apologized for possibly offending her. Daniella just laughed and said, “If I could, I would give you a hug.”

Daniella and I went over to a bench so that we could both sit and talk. And then she told me the story of her life—an inspirational account of courage and determination to live in mainstream Israeli society. I told her that her story was close to both my heart and professional interests because I worked at “HaJoint”. Daniella’s eyes lit up and she said it was b’sheirt that we had met, for she was meeting later that week with JDC representatives to check out rental space for the newly initiated Center for Independent Living, a program that we were piloting for Israelis with special needs, in partnership with local authorities.

Since our first meeting, Daniella and I have talked many times, either during my walks through our neighborhood, at JDC offices, or at the now permanent site of The Zusman Center for Independent Living in Jerusalem. The Zusman Center, sponsored by our Honorary Life Board Member, Larry Zusman and his wife, Leonore, is one of the flagship projects for Israelis with special needs that have been developed by JDC over the years.

As a result of the pioneering work of JDC professionals Tammy Barnea and Avital Sandler-Loeff, and the vision and leadership of JDC-Israel’s Director, Arnon Mantver, we now have a National Initiative for Israelis with Special Needs. Known in short Hebrew as “HaMasad” ( NOT to be confused with the Mossad), there is now a national headquarters for planning and program development for the many thousands of Israelis with special needs. The Center for Independent Living and all the programs that JDC has developed—and those that will be initiated in the future—will hereafter be housed under one national roof partnership, HaMasad, with Tammy as its director. The founding partners of HaMasad are JDC, the Israeli Ministries of Finance, Social Affairs, Health, the National Social Security Institute, and a major American-Israeli Jewish foundation.

And this leads me to the latest and very exciting part of this story. I am very pleased to announce that the Ruderman Family Charitable Foundation has become a founding partner in HaMasad with a commitment of $2 million over the next four years (2009 through 2012).

I met Jay and Shira Ruderman soon after they moved to Israel from Boston a few years ago. Since then, we have spent many hours together building both a strong professional relationship and a good friendship. Together with my JDC colleague, David Zackon, we have traveled to Ukraine and Russia. We have worked closely as partners in two innovative and successful programs in Israel, one for families with special needs children (Amit L’Mishpacha) and a new education and training initiative (Excel-HT) for young Druze men and woman. The Ruderman family has a deep and demonstrated commitment to helping people with special needs. Through their vision and major philanthropic support, they have made it possible for special needs children to attend Jewish day schools in the Boston area. And upon making aliyah, they began exploring the best way to advance the cause of Israelis with special needs.

Jay Ruderman, who now serves as President of the Ruderman Family Charitable Foundation and whom I hope you have met at our recent Board and RD meetings, has made it a point to get deeply acquainted with JDC and its professional team. Jay epitomizes the promising changes in the philanthropic arena. He is not a “donor”, per se. He is an “investor”. Jay and his Foundation’s trustees want to insure that their philanthropic resources are invested strategically and wisely. He wants a return on their investments so that he can know that those precious philanthropic funds truly are bringing real results to those in need. He wants to be a partner in both funding and governance. And we at JDC say “amen!” as we embrace Jay’s philosophy and strategy of partnership with our major funders. In this time of economic turbulence and massive losses of Jewish foundation assets, we call upon the Jewish philanthropic community to emulate Jay and his peers who invest their resources as strategically as possible. This can only serve to stretch a limited pool of funds that much further while enhancing the lives of those of our People who are most in need of assistance.

I will end as I began, with Daniella, whom I recently saw once again in a neighborhood ice cream shop. We reminisced and laughed about our first encounter; then she proceeded to tell me about her daughter. She’s done superbly in school and, with tears in her eyes, Daniella spoke with great pride about her daughter being able to do what Daniella could not—serve in the Israeli Army.Daniella then thanked me—as a member of the JDC community—for helping to enable her to live independently and make it that much more possible for her to raise her precious daughter with dignity and pride. And this is what HaMasad is all about.Mazal tov and Yasher Koach to JDC, the Government of Israel, Jay Ruderman and the Ruderman Family Charitable Foundation, for having the vision and commitment to insure that our Israeli brethren with special needs live lives of dignity and purpose.

Irv and I want to thank the Ruderman family for this generous gift and hope it is the new start we urgently need for our 2009-2010 fundraising efforts. As you well know, JDC cares for the world’s most vulnerable Jews in Israel and across the globe. We are their safety net. Without JDC many would have no place to turn for the basic necessities of life (food, medicine, and shelter), while others would not or could not become productive members of society. With your caring and help, we bring hope and possibility—and we will continue our work until there isn’t any left to do.

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