|Renowned musician Itzhak Perlman and friends at the Genesis Prize award|
ceremony - June 23, 2017 [Image Source]
Once again, Aleh, Israel's largest chain of warehouse institutions for people with disabilities, has duped just about everyone. By that I mean the prime minister, world renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and the Israeli affiliate of United Way Worldwide.
Some rather esteemed "everybodies", I'm sure you'll agree.
Back on June 23, 2016, the annual Genesis Prize was presented in a glittering ceremony to celebrity violinist Itzhak Perlman. Established in 2013, it has been called by Time Magazine the “Jewish Nobel”.
The cash part of the Genesis Prize award is $1 million. This was doubled to $2 million via a contribution from a philanthropist, Roman Abramovich. And a third million would be raised through a matching funds program to be administered by Jewish Funders Network. Perlman himself announced he would apply the Genesis Prize cash to support two new initiatives. About 80% of the $3 million would go to "Breaking Barriers", a competition to select a handful of projects conceived by organizations Israel and North America
that promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish communal life [Press release, September 12, 2016]
(The remaining 20% would be applied to advanced training for especially talented musicians in Israel.)
The winning Israeli projects were announced on April 2, 2017. Aleh Negev was one of the seventeen and it stuck out like a sore thumb. The winners included the IsraelMuseum, Beit Issie Shapiro, the Community Centers Company (החברה למתנ"סים), Rimon School of Music, the "PleaseTouch" Theatre, Hasadna Conservatory of Jerusalem, the Jordan RiverVillage, Milbat, the Gesher Theatre, the Vertigo Dance Troupe, the Central Library for the Blind and the Orna Porat Theatre for Children and Youth.
According to a spokeswoman for the prize I spoke with at Matan, the Israeli affiliate of United Way, all the winning projects were selected from a list of applicants who seek to culturally enrich people with disabilities. Some of those projects will only be realized the winners once the award money is handed to them. Aleh's winning project is one of those.
The spokeswoman, Tal, told me it will involve Aleh staff taking residents from its institution for babies, children and adults to the theatre, concerts and similar events. The Aleh website boasts that the grant will let it "empower children with disabilities and expose children of all abilities to the arts" and that the funds will go towards taking "residents to museums, musical performances and other cultural events".
Those excursions will give the residents a very rare opportunity to leave that large, closed institution isolated from the general population in the middle of Israel's Negev desert. We know that because, by Aleh's own admission, its residents spend most of their time confined to the institution. In its own words:
For most of us, traveling by train is a routine activity. Not so for the residents of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, who recently went on the first train ride of their lives – a very exciting experience... During the train ride, the residents and staff sang songs and gazed, as if hypnotized, at the amazing Negev landscape passing by their windows... [Aleh website]
What is incomprehensible to me is that an institution which by its very existence promotes and entrenches the anathema of institutionalization and segregation of people with disabilities has been awarded this prize.
Several speakers at the award ceremony emphasized the concept of equal rights for people with disabilities and of their inclusion in the general society. Nobody could possibly argue that warehousing those with disabilities in large institutions, a practice eradicated from most other first world countries (see my January 2016 post: Aleh 101) constitutes inclusion.
“People with disabilities are citizens who deserve equal rights,” Perlman said at Sunday’s ceremony. “If we fight for their rights, expand their horizons and ensure maximum accessibility we will give them the tools to contribute to society – this is the Israel we all want to see for ourselves and our children.”
Hmmm. And locking them in institutions achieves that how?