“Does focusing on disability inclusion and equity as Jewish values need its own month?” Elie Klein asked three dozen people last week at Temple Isaiah in Fulton. “We should be living that every single day. But the truth is that we’re busy people and have a lot of stuff going on. So unless we’re forced to focus on it, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees, and that’s why [JDAIM] is so important.”
JDAIM is Jewish Disability, Awareness and Inclusion Month, marked in February, and Klein, a graduate of Yeshiva of Greater Washington, had come to talk about the Israeli hospital and rehabilitation center ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village. Klein is its director of development.
In addition to medical services, ADI Negev also provides a community for disabled people from all over the world to work, play and receive care in an environment that accommodates their needs.
Its 40-acre campus includes a special-education school, hydrotherapy center, farm managed by its residents and a petting zoo, with plans to build a new kindergarten on the horizon.
“ADI Negev provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education and medical care, and ensures that Israel remains accessible and successful,” said Sean Siegel, associate director of JNF-USA, which co-sponsored the event.
ADI Negev was founded by Didi and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, named in memory of their son, Eran. Eran was born with autism and several other intellectual disabilities, and died at age 23 from Castleman disease, a rare disorder with fewer than 5,000 cases in the world. The Almogs’ struggle to find treatment for their son is what led them to create ADI Negev.
“Doron went to the agricultural authority,” Klein told the Temple Isaiah audience. “There was this big, beautiful plot — 40 acres of land — that was slated for a farmer to come along to plant something. So Doron said, ‘Well, I’m a farmer.’ ”
“ ‘What are you going to plant?’ they asked. And he said, ‘I’m going to plant potential,’” Klein said.
Some 20 years after its founding, ADI Negev is now home to 170 residents and services 190 students with special needs who live off-campus. They have seen considerable success over that period of time with treating and housing patients.
Klein told the story of Anat, a girl who used a wheelchair and could only move her eyes and mouth. Because of her condition, she struggled to communicate until ADI Negev staff presented her with an eye-gaze computer that can be operated using sight alone. Soon, she was able to tell her parents she wanted to go to the mall, asked about her classmates and even sent them email.
“Now, she talks a mile a minute,” he said, “all using her computer.”
Klein ended his presentation by giving Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Craig Axler crafts that had been made by residents of ADI Negev, including an afikomen bag and some other holiday-related items created as part of the center’s art-therapy programs. The center sells similar patient-made Judaica on its online boutique, with all proceeds going toward the center’s continued operations.
“We’re here because we’re humans,” Klein said. “And we’re trying to empower these human vulnerable members of Israeli society. We’re here to lift them up. We’re here to help them find their greatest potential.”
Said Axler: “The opportunity to have Elie Klein give us an extensive tour and presentation from a distance of the extraordinary village of ADI-Negev Nachalat Eran was truly an honor.
To make the connection with the impact of JNF-USA’s support of this vision, particularly for the group of Temple Isaiah congregants who will travel with me to Israel next month is even more amazing. We have been introduced to this special place from 5,000 miles away. In a few short weeks, we will see this oasis of caring in person. ■