As the Jewish community prepares to recognize Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM) throughout the month of February, pro-Israel philanthropists in Boston recently attended Jewish National Fund-USA’s “Beyond the Blue Box” event hosted by Jewish National Fund-USA ambassador Risa Aronson to learn how the organization is spearheading initiatives for inclusion and accessibility throughout the Jewish homeland’s north and south.
Jewish National Fund-USA’s affiliate Special in Uniform, an incredible program that integrates young adults with disabilities and autism into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, later, into Israeli society, was the primary initiative highlighted. Director of development Lt. Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia and Smadar Yehuda Gazit, a parent of a Special in Uniform participant, joined the in-person attendees virtually from Israel to talk about this life-altering program of one of the most inclusive militaries in the world.
“Approximately 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the World Health Organization estimates more than 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability,” said Aronson. “I think the U.S. and other countries could look to Israel and see how the country ensures even its most vulnerable population is woven into the fabric of its culture.”
In early February, Attia was also the featured speaker at a Jewish National Fund-USA disabilities month event in South Florida, co-hosted by Rhonda and Eric Forman of Newton and Bari and Charlie Popkin of Needham, to spread this message of hope and inclusivity to fellow New Englanders spending the cooler months in their southern winter homes.
Both events highlighted a unique component of Special in Uniform that was created at the height of the pandemic and is now gaining international attention: its music inclusion program and band. More than just a pastime for its performers, people with disabilities are now empowered to participate in the legendary music tradition of the IDF, where they can develop and share their musical talent with the world.
“We pride ourselves on highlighting Special in Uniform’s band after their moving performances at Jewish National Fund-USA’s National Conference in Boston this past November,” shared Sara Hefez, JNF-USA’s executive director in the region. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we sang, danced and bonded through songs. Music truly is a universal language.”
“JDAAIM is a time of year when Jewish communities and organizations raise awareness and foster inclusion for people with disabilities and special needs, and we hosted these events as a way to show the Boston Jewish community what is possible,” added Aronson.
In addition to Special in Uniform, Jewish National Fund-USA provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education and medical care for people with disabilities and makes Israel’s parks, nature trails and recreational facilities, including various Israeli heritage sites, inclusive for visitors of all ability levels. Visit jnf.org/disabilities to learn more about how the organization’s focus on improving the quality of life in Israel for all its citizens also ensures that no member of Israeli society is left behind.
The Formans and Popkins also co-hosted an event in South Florida featuring Jewish National Fund-USA’s executive director of national major donor advancement Marina Furman, a former Refusenik—a Soviet citizen (and especially a Jew) who was refused permission to emigrate. Furman shared how she spent 10 years fighting the Soviet dictatorship to allow freedom of immigration and religious expression, nearly losing her life in the battle. She also highlighted how Jewish National Fund-USA and its affiliates are helping Ukrainian and Russian olim who immigrated to Israel.
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