Lev Bakehila (Lev in the Community): The promotion of human rights of persons with disabilities in the Haredi community in Jerusalem
The flagship community engagement project of the Jerusalem College of Technology – Lev Academic Center
With the support of the Council for Higher Education, “Lev Bakehila” (Lev in the Community) was established as JCT’s flagship civic engagement program focusing on the promotion of human rights of people with disabilities, such as housing rights, education, employment, accessibility, due process, and equality. Students, faculty, and staff assist and empower people with disabilities in the Haredi (ultra-orthodox) communities in Jerusalem, addressing their problems and needs. The project was established and is headed by Dr. Zvika Orr and Dr. Adi Finkelstein from the Department of Nursing.
About the project:
In Jerusalem there are between 27,000 and 50,000 Haredi (ultra-orthodox) people with varying degrees of disability. This group includes people with physical, mental, sensory, developmental, and cognitive disabilities who are, therefore, doubly discriminated against by Israeli society. For example, Haredi people with disabilities have higher unemployment rates and greater economic difficulties both in comparison to the Haredi who are not disabled and to the secular population with disabilities (Alfassi-Henley, 2014). In addition, there is a serious lack of information regarding their rights and the services in place to assist them which is partly due to poor access to information on the Internet and other media. Similarly to people with disabilities from other sectors, members of the Haredi sector with disabilities often experience stigma, shame, and concealment. This flagship community engagement project of the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) – Lev Academic Center was established in the spirit of “the social model of disability” that views people with disabilities as having a unique contribution to society and seeks to do everything possible to enable them to fulfill this contribution for their benefit, and, no less importantly, for the benefit of all of society.
Students participating in the project promote the rights of Haredi people with disabilities, their integration as equals into society, and their empowerment. 130 students from all JCT’s campuses, including students from the Haredi community and students with disabilities, participate in the project. The project is run by the Department of Nursing but is open to students from all departments at JCT, studying towards bachelor’s as well as master’s degrees. The students’ activities in the community include four hours each week throughout the academic year. Students participating in the project receive a scholarship as well as a certificate acknowledging their participation in the flagship program.
In the early months of the year, students attend training that combines practical-professional aspects, such as information regarding human rights in general and the rights of people with disabilities in particular, as well as theoretical-academic aspects, such as basic concepts of disability studies. The training is provided by academic and professional experts (lawyers, social workers, etc.). During the year, additional training on specific topics adapted to the needs of students in the field is carried out.
Upon completion of the training, the students select one of following:
- Individual Level – advancing knowledge and awareness of rights among people with disabilities, their families and their caregivers, guidance and accompaniment in enacting their rights, and their empowerment. Some of the students deal with short-term inquiries while others accompany people and families with multiple needs over a long period of time providing them with in-depth assistance in order to achieve a significant and sustainable change in their lives.
- Community Level – creating community projects that address a need that arises from the community. For example, students identified the need to work with sisters of children with disabilities in a Haredi neighborhood and established a group of sisters with whom they have worked for over a year now.
- Public Policy Level – activities to alter policies or to create new policies, on both the municipal and national levels, particularly on topics that arise from those dealing with the individual and community levels.
On each level, the students can choose between one of two tracks. In the first track, the students can volunteer with civil society organizations that partner with the project (for more details, see under “Partner Organizations”).
In the second track, students volunteer in the “Lev Bakehilla” Citizens Rights Center. The Center’s mission is to help Haredi people with disabilities familiarize themselves with and realize their rights. This innovative Rights Center was established in collaboration with the Ezer Mizion Organization’s Family Counseling Center. The Rights Center was established as a result of an in-depth study conducted by the students, under the supervision of the project faculty. Their study used interviews to examine the needs of Haredi people with disabilities and their families, their level of knowledge about their rights, the degree to which they have realized their rights, and the best ways to address their needs and help them promote their rights. The students who volunteer at the Rights Center undergo a comprehensive training by experts in each of its issue areas. The Right Center addresses a wide range of issue areas, including housing, education, employment, accessibility, health services, welfare, due process, equality and more. The Center provides services to people with all kinds of disabilities, free of charge. The student volunteers have an entire network of experts from ten non-governmental and municipal organizations (lawyers, social workers, and others) who advise the students in how to help their clients. To the Rights Center’s flyer and contact info, click here.
In light of studies that indicate the importance of discussion groups for students, regular group meetings are held for volunteers, where they discuss professional, emotional, and ethical dilemmas that arise from operating activities. The meetings allow reflection and group discussion on the work, the challenges it poses, as well as the benefits and opportunities that arise from it. These meetings also help connect the three levels of activity and the students working within them. The training and group sessions allow to put the students’ activism in the broader social, structural, cultural, economic, and political contexts.
The flagship project was built for the long term, taking into consideration the importance of a profound and ongoing relationship with the community and long-term continuous social activism of students and staff together with the community.
The project is accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation study, which helps develop the project in an effective manner and to maximize the contribution of the project to all those who participate. The evaluation study is based on a written survey, interviews, and observations.
Some nursing students participate in a seminar on health, disability, and human rights. This community-engaged seminar deals with social and cultural aspects of disability and their connection with human rights issues. The seminar is given by Dr. Zvika Orr and Dr. Adi Finkelstein. During the seminar, the students map and analyze social realities relating to the lives of people with disabilities from the Haredi community.
The project is generously supported by the Council for Higher Education, PERACH, and (in 2018) the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest, NJ.
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Dr. Zvika Orr: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel. (office): +972-2-6547231
Address: Tal Campus, 11 Beit Hadfus Street, Jerusalem 9548311, Israel
Short-term goals and planning
– Assistance to approximately 500 Haredim with disabilities in exercising their rights, providing knowledge about their rights and empowerment.
– Year-round extensive guidance for approximately 15 families/people with disabilities from the Haredi sector and increasing their options for living independently and comfortably.
– Initiating and implementing a community project with the participation of more than 50 people from the community.
– Working towards policy change, which can benefit a large group of Haredi people with disabilities in Jerusalem.
– Establishing and strengthening the “Rights Center” as a recognized and accepted service provider for the ultra-Orthodox community, in cooperation with organizations working in the field.
– Significant contribution to volunteering students: providing knowledge and relevant experience, creating commitment to social contribution, and strengthening civic responsibility.
– For many of the students, this is their first opportunity to meet a group in society, which they would otherwise not have been exposed to, and strengthening a sense of solidarity with “the Other”.
– Raising awareness of people with disabilities (rights, integration, contribution etc.) among the Haredi community in Jerusalem, the public at large, the relevant municipal and national authorities, and all students and staff of JCT.
Long-term goals and planning
– Creating a stable, well-established, professional, effective framework for long-term activity, recognized and appreciated by the community, supported by all partners in the process, with consistent activity of students over several years, maintaining continuous operations even during the summer months.
– Expanding activists among the students and the community, creating a group of community volunteers, trained by the students, who will volunteer together with the students.
– Creating a framework for peer counseling – we conducted a preliminary survey that showed that although the need for this service is decreasing in the general population due to widespread access to information on the Internet, this service will be extremely beneficial to members of the Haredi community, especially with respect to mediation with service providers.
– Benefit to students – based on the findings of several studies, we expect that participation in the project will have a positive impact on academic achievement, leadership skills and self-confidence of the students, will raise their motivation to continue studying for advanced degrees, will enhance their chances to succeed in the workforce and enhance their sense of obligation to actively take action for social justice.
– Highlighting the links between Judaism and human rights.
– Increasing the discourse regarding human rights of persons with disabilities in Israeli society in general and in Haredi society in particular.
– Strengthening connections and mutual support between the Jerusalem College of Technology and the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
– Promoting knowledge and research in the field of disabilities, specifically in relation to the Haredi community.
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The project in the Jerusalem College of Technology’s policy
The Jerusalem College of Technology decided to consolidate and strengthen the social involvement and active civic participation of students and faculty, and to promote the mutual support between the institution and the community. As an academic-religious institution, the Jerusalem College of Technology wishes to exercise the Jewish values of justice, mercy, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). “On three things the world stands: Torah, work and charity” (Pirke Avot, FFA MB). We believe that it is our duty as an academic-religious institution not only to provide excellent higher education and religious studies, but also to fulfill our responsibility towards society and create an inherent connection between these elements.
The Department of Nursing, leading this flagship project, seeks to realize these values in its academic and practical activities. This project’s activism sharpens the social sensitivity of the nursing students, who play a significant part in this project, and exposes them to issues that are most relevant to their future work. We believe that they can serve as messengers in the future, spreading knowledge and sensitivity in relation to the rights of people with disabilities among health professionals as well as various health institutions in Jerusalem (hospitals, community clinics, etc.). It should be noted that the community engagement is in the area of current research of several faculty members in the Department of Nursing. This allows for maximum utilization of academic resources, enabling high-quality training as well as in-depth and informed social volunteerism, with a broad, comparative and critical perspective.
This project is also paramount for the promotion of Haredi society in Israel. The academic education of the Haredi community, men and women, and their entrance into the workforce is one of the central challenges facing contemporary Israel. For 50 years, JCT’s religious environment and its focus on professional career development have attracted orthodox youth interested in studying for an academic degree. Now, the Haredi students are coming to JCT where they are being assisted in becoming contributing members of society as scientists and engineers, in high-tech and in business.
In addition, this flagship project enables Haredi students to contribute directly to their community in novel ways. This strengthens the connection between their socio-cultural world and the world of academic studies and employment that they have joined. Participation in the flagship project also provides them with valuable practical experience and strengthens their qualities and skills such as leadership, self-confidence, and motivation. For non-Haredi students, this program provides them with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of Haredi society and strengthen solidarity among the various groups that make up the Jerusalem College of Technology.
The focus of the flagship project in the field of human rights of persons with disabilities also complements the institution’s policy, which sets for itself the goal of absorbing and integrating people with disabilities as students, faculty, and staff at the institution and promoting innovative research in the field. We believe, therefore, that the project “Lev Bakehila” realizes the values, goals, and vision of the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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The project has partners from social organizations specializing in human rights of persons with disabilities and assisting their integration into community life, as well as ultra-Orthodox organizations that support people with disabilities in Haredi society. Partner organizations take an active part in the process of professional-practical training of students, designing and building activities, absorbing volunteering students and execution of the project based on actual needs.
List of partners (tentative list):
- ACHLAH – Association for the Quality of Life for People with Developmental Difficulties
- BEYACHAD – The Organization for Integration of People with Disabilities within Society
- BIZCHUT – The Israel Human Rights Center for People with Disabilities
- Center for Independent Living
- Clubhouse Jerusalem
- Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Ministry of Justice
- Community Rehabilitation – Ministry of Health
- Enosh – The Israeli Mental Health Association
- Jewish Institute for the Blind
- Ohr Jerusalem
- Seeach Sod
- SHALVA – the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel
- SHEKEL – Community Services for People with Special Needs
- Yad Sarah
- Yedid – The Association for Community Empowerment
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