I was incredibly honored to travel abroad as a Mandell Fellow, representing JEVS Human Services, along with fellow JEVS’ Workforce Development and disability leaders to Barcelona and Girona, Spain. This opportunity was generously funded by the Samuel P. Mandell Foundation with the goal to promote learning and development between JEVS Human Services and Israel Elwyn, where our disability workforce professionals joined us in Spain.

Barcelona was a stunning city scape full of rich architecture, music, art, history, and lovely beaches. During the trip, we had the opportunity to discuss JEVS’ response with our Elwyn colleagues to the COVID-19 pandemic and learn how Spain and Israel responded, too. We found solace in reflecting that though our experiences were separated by different worlds, our experience was very similar. We found companionship in sharing our mutual desire to seize the current opportunities to further the progress of ensuring communities and workplaces are equitable and inclusive for people with disabilities. A highlight of Barcelona opportunity to visit a service provider for people with disabilities, GroupSifo, an employment and support programs for persons with disabilities.

We had the opportunity to head 90 minutes north of Barcelona to visit Girona, Spain. Girona is a charming city full of culture, narrow cobblestone streets, impeccably preserved medieval building, and a web of bridges spanning the Onyar river. After Barcelona, Girona had the second-largest Jewish community in Catalonia and it played an important role from the 10th until the 15th century, when they were forced to convert to Catholicism in 1492, just like the rest of Spain. Jews who refused to convert were expelled from the country.

A highlight of Girona was our visit the Jewish History in Museum in Girona, Spain. Located in the Jewish quarter, also known as “El Call”, which comes from the Latin “callis” for “streets”, the Museum preserves and reflects on the history of the Jewish communities of Catalonia, which throughout the entire medieval period made a decisive contribution to the history of the country and its cultural development. Girona was an enchanting and sobering learning experience shared with colleagues.

It is incredibly important that JEVS continue to elevate and champion efforts such as Employment First that further empower people with disabilities to be financially empowered and live independent lives. The passion and professionally demonstrated by our colleagues at Israel Elwyn was particularly impressive and certainly sparked a sense of professional energy. I am most grateful to the Mandell Foundation, JEVS Human Services, and Israel Elwyn for this important and meaningful sharing of experience and program.

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