Recently, our very own Rhonda Cohen, Administrator of Community Relations for JEVS Career Strategies (as well as our Ash and Lasko programs), traveled to Israel to learn about the myriad of support service programs offered at Israel Elwyn. An exchange program of sorts, Cohen (along with her traveling companion from Community Integrated Services) was able to share ideas and experiences with the corresponding service organization, and came back with several remarkable observations about Israel, its culture, and the sensibilities surrounding workforce development and opportunities as our parallel organizations seek to enhance the quality of life of individuals. Her thoughts below:

I was honored to recently participate as a Mandell Fellow, representing JEVS Human Services, and traveling with Susan Schonfeld (CEO of Community Integrated Services). Funded by the Samuel P. Mandell Foundation, this experience is part of an exchange program with Israel where two Fellows come to the United States to experience programs in Philadelphia and then two travel to Israel. Our organizational host for this was Israel Elwyn, whose full complement of services span the lifecycle of the individual. We were introduced to a variety of employment programs throughout Israel, particularly in East Jerusalem at Elwyn Al Quds. Based in Jerusalem, our journey spanned a lot of communities ranging from Ashkelon to Haifa and many areas in the outskirts of the cities.

I was particularly impressed with the professionalism and passion of the entire Israel Elwyn community. Like JEVS staff, Elwyn employees tend to stay a long time, as they are dedicated to the work and the people they serve.

A few reflections:

  • Serving in the military in Israel is an honor and for most, an obligation. The Mosaic Program invites individuals with all types of disabilities to do their national service and reap the same benefits and status as all others. It is quite a unique program.
  • While in the U.S., everyone receives minimum wage regardless of a disability. In Israel, it is allowable to pay a portion of the wage depending on the individual’s ability to perform. There are positives and negatives to this system.
  • It can be more difficult to find employment in East Jerusalem, as there is less industry. Like in the United States, agencies work hard to find employment for those who need it and are ready to work.
  • Most buildings in Israel are required to have a “safe room.” For those with certain disabilities and for some, particularly children, putting on a gas mask can be overwhelming. We saw rooms where oxygen is pumped in to avoid this. It certainly is something we don’t have to think about in the United States.
  • Individuals have thrived from Elwyn’s work programs. We saw so many happy faces and spoke to so many people who were thrilled with their work experiences. The clients know they are contributing to society and feel empowered when they are able to make money.
  • There is a big push for individuals to self-advocate for working in positions in which they want to work. Job coaches have made a significant impact on the success of the employees.
  • Employers are thrilled to have employees with disabilities. They feel that their staff learns as much from their colleagues and the camaraderie is important to all.
  • Israel Elwyn has a relationship with the Menorah Candle Factory, which we visited. I actually got to see where my Hanukah and Yahrtzeit (memorial) candles are made!
  • I am most grateful to the Mandell Foundation, JEVS Human Services and Israel Elwyn for this important and meaningful sharing of opportunities and programs. The entire organization was most hospitable and it certainly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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