Social Justice may be understood through the many lenses found in Jewish texts, but perhaps none as foundational as “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). In an interview conducted by Covenant Award Recipient and Director of National Ramah Tikvah Network Howard Blas, Shutaf Inclusion Programs Founder and Executive Director Beth Steinberg explores how, from a Jewish perspective, “disabilities is a Jewish peoplehood issue.”

Q: Tell us about Shutaf

Shutaf was born out of parental need. Miriam Avraham (my co-founder) and I are both parents of children with disabilities who are now teenagers. We were tired of people saying, “No, there isn’t a program for your kid and no, we don’t want your kid.”

When we started, Shutaf was a summer program; we quickly realized how great camp was and that there was a significant need in Israel for programs for people with disabilities.

Since Shutaf was born in 2007, we’ve grown tremendously. Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem now offers year-round activities for children, teens and young people, with and without disabilities. Our programs include day camps during the Passover and August vacations; afterschool youth groups; a Young Leadership Program for teens and young adults; Inclusion-Accelerator Workshops and parent gatherings.

Shutaf is a place of complete acceptance and inclusion for all kids of all abilities; religious and secular, rich and poor, from all cultural backgrounds.

Q: How can we understand inclusion as a social justice issue?

Including people into the larger Jewish community is a critical social justice issue. In fact, the word “inclusion” itself implies ex-clusion, and therefore warrants a social justice approach. Allowing every member of the community–especially those with disabilities–a way in means equal opportunities for all. That’s a good thing to work towards. That’s a good thing to believe in.

We need to X-out the word inclusion and come up with a better word. (The URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) is using a new term; “audacious hospitality.”) I recently taught at a synagogue in Philadelphia and people said, “Let’s just call it “welcoming!”

In the end, all words have limits and the issue is big—so many people are still marginalized. The bottom line: these are Jews who shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.

Q: What would an ideal inclusive world look like?

Inclusion is where everyone finds their place. It is a world where fewer limits are placed on people with disabilities. It is less about trying to include those with differences into our pre-existing settings (meaning, those settings that were built for people without disabilities).

In an ideal world, we would eliminate terms like “high functioning” and “low functioning” since they create divisions. It is not for any of us to say what a person is allowed to do and not allowed to do!

Q: What other programs in Israel are doing important social justice and inclusion work?

There are so many people in Israel doing great work in this arena. Here are just a few programs to check out:

  • Shai Asher (Milton’s Gift) is a non-profit career-training program for people with special needs, run by Menachem Stoplner, a social worker who lives on Kibbutz Shluchot.
  • Revital Lan Cohen is an elected government official (member of the Meretz party) and the parent of child with autism spectrum disorder. She has built a very impressive parent coalition which you can read about on her Facebook page.
  • HaBayit Shel Ronit runs a social program for adults with disabilities.
  • Bizchut is the Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities.
  • Kaleidoscope promotes understanding between all populations by fostering the development of the social skills such as self-awareness and collaboration that form the foundation for respect for diversity and appreciation of multiculturalism. As a research-based educational approach, Kaleidoscope begins its process with skill-building workshops that emphasize reflection for educators, students and parents within Israel’s Jewish and Arab sectors.

Find out more about important organizations working toward inclusion, by visiting this site: http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2015/12/22/12-special-needs-organizations-in-israel/

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

As the tennis world gears up for the Miami Open (March 21-April 3), often considered the “Fifth Grand Slam,” on par with such tennis events as Wimbledon and the US Open, Israel is preparing to welcome local and international talent to the similarly timed Israel Open.

The Israel Open, a $125,000 ATP men’s Challenger tennis tournament, attracts some big names to the Ra’anana Tennis Center March 27 to April 4.

Shlomo Glickstein, President of the Israel Tennis Association and former 22nd ranked player in the world, is proud and excited.

“It is very important for Israel to host such competitions and we love to host large events. It attracts sponsors, media and role models for our young players.”

Glickstein is also practical. “Tournaments like ours offer young tennis players the chance to earn ATP points.”

The Israel Open is part of the ATP Challenger Tour, a series of international professional men’s tennis tournaments.

Players who earn sufficient ranking points become eligible for qualifying or main draw entry at such ATP World Tour tournaments as the recent BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells or the Miami Open. Future events, like the three $10,000 tournaments recently held in Israel, are the third tier of international tennis competition.

The Israel Open attracts such well-known Israeli players as Dudi Sela, who climbed this week from No. 88 to 84 in the rankings, and Amir Weintraub (197). They are joined in the main singles draw of 32 by top 100 players Mikhail Youzhny (76th, Russia), Evgeny Donskoy (81st, Russia), and Ricardis Berankis (85th, Lithuania). Lukas Lacko (98th, Slovakia), who lost in a three-set final last year to Nikoloz Basilashvili, returns to Israel to play in this year’s Israel Open.

Other top players include Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, currently ranked 401. Tipsarevic received a wild card and is making his tennis comeback following foot surgery and a 17 month absence from tennis.

Israeli Yoni Erlich will enter the Israel open doubles tournament.

Erlich had a distinguished doubles career playing with Andy Ram, and continues competing in international tournaments, many with partner Colin Fleming of Great Britain.

Sixteen teams will also compete in doubles.

Youzhny is no stranger to Israel.

“I have been to Israel several times with my family for vacations. I love Israel and look forward to coming to Israel again.”

Berankis is looking forward to making his first trip to Israel.

“I have many friends in Israel and heard so many good things about Israel. I’m really excited to come and play this big Challenger tournament.”

Israel has become an increasingly popular destination for professional tennis tournaments.

In early February, Israel hosted 14 countries in the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I women’s tennis event. Top players, including Heather Watson (55th, Great Britain), Tsvetana Prionkova (59th, Bulgaria) and Jelena Ostapenko (84th, Latvia), competed at the Municipal Tennis Club in Eilat. The Israel team, anchored by Julia Glushko and Shahar Peer, finished in the top 4 of the event.

And Israel hosted three Futures tennis events in January and February.

Israeli Davis Cup team member, Edan Leshem and 16-year-old future star, Yshai Oliel, competed in some of the $10,000 Future events.at the Kfar Maccabiah Tennis Center.

Glickstein notes that , “We have some promising young players including Ben Patael, Tal Goldengorn, Yshai Oliel – they are eager to play and get results.”

Israel recently lost to Hungary in the Davis Cup.

The Israel Open was held in Ramat Hasharon from 2008-2010, was not held from 2011-2014, and was also played in Ra’anana last year.

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In a special guest post for Covenant Classroom, Covenant Award recipient and Director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network Howard Blas shares some of the latest and greatest creative and original educational programming from Israel and reminds us yet again how the land of our ancestors is truly the original Covenant classroom.

Making the Most of Any Ability and Increasing Self-Confidence, too

At Kibbutz Tzuba in the Judean Hills, 15 minutes from the center of Jerusalem, teens who are struggling academically can now participate in a farming program where they learn skills and enjoy the feeling of success beyond the classroom walls. The founder of the program, Alon Greenboim (everyone calls him “Jumba,”) knows first-hand how traditional classrooms may not the learning environment of choice for everyone–but that everyone can learn by doing.

When he was a young boy, Jumba was assigned to work in the kibbutz apple orchard. There, he needed a ladder to reach the apples. He told himself then that if he were ever in charge, he would figure out a way to get the trees to grow horizontally so that shorter people would not need to climb a ladder to pick apples off the trees. Sure enough, today the entire apple orchard at Kibbutz Tzuba is made up of trees that grow out, not up.

It is this type of ingenuity that has allowed Jumba to grow a multi-million dollar agricultural business and also help young people who haven’t found their footing in traditional school, to accomplish and achieve in ways they never thought possible.

Thanks to a new program, Gdolim Bemadim, Special in Uniform, people with a wide range of disabilities can now serve in the IDF. In areas such as logistics, printing, supply rooms, food service, computers and more, this program allows soldiers with disabilities to build self-esteem, and the typical soldiers benefit as well. Yossi Kahana, Director of JNF (Jewish National Fund) Task Force on Disabilities and co-founder of the program, believes strongly that “if every soldier in the IDF had the opportunity to work side by side with people with disabilities, the potential to change attitudes in Israeli society [would be] tremendous.”

Learning Sensitivity and Compassion in the Dark

It is hard to give people a sense of what it might be like to experience life with a disability. But now, thanks to the Dialogue in the Dark program at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon, visitors can experience a taste of what it’s like to be blind. Guides who are either visually impaired or blind lead visitors through the exhibit (which includes a port, market, pub and noisy pedestrian crossing)–and engage them in conversation about disability, coping and life in general. To cap off the experience, Nalagaat Blackout Restaurant (at The Na Laga’at Center, Ratzif HaAliya Hashnia, Jaffa Port), a short 3.5 miles (6 km) away, offers an opportunity to experience and enjoy a delicious kosher dinner in total darkness, served and guided by blind wait staff.

Teaching Peace… One Serve at a Time

Can coexistence be taught on the tennis court? Since the 1970’s, the Israel Tennis Center has been doing just that, through its Israel Tennis Centers (ITC) Coexistence Tennis Programs. The ITC aims to alter negative perceptions while instilling positive ones, through joint sporting activities held for Jewish, Arab, Druze and Bedouin children. Twinned kindergarten classes organized through the ITC bring together 60 children from an Arab kindergarten and a Jewish kindergarten weekly on one court, where they learn motor skills development and participate in sports activities at the ITC centers in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Akko.

Another ITC program, called “Doubles Coexistence,” pairs Arab and Jewish children as partners on the tennis court and encourages them to interact on and off the court, thereby building a bridge between the different cultures.

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