The Times of Israel – Apr 25, 2013
By Dov Hirth
My Yom Ha’atzmaut was picture-perfect. Like so many others across the country, I enjoyed the annual “Sunday experience” by barbecuing the day away with friends and family. (Forget baseball – mangal is our national pastime!)
It was such a fulfilling feeling knowing that every other Israeli had the same opportunity to truly relax and spend some quality time with their friends and families in our beautiful homeland.
All around our chosen cookout locale, we saw others excitedly taking advantage of the day. They were pulling out their lawn chairs and parking their cars in whatever could pass for a parking spot, grassy knolls and sidewalks included. Speakers blared with the newest Mizrachi hits and old Naomi Shemer classics adding a special Israeli flavor to the festive feeling of controlled chaos. And the wide array of condiments, ranging from baked beans to cabbage salad to spicy schug, made it clear that Israel was a place for true Kibbutz Galuyot (gathering of the exiles) and a home for people from all walks of life.
But then I realized that it wouldn’t be a day of carefree celebration for every Israeli.
Some would most likely not have the chance to enjoy a traditional mangal at the beach or on a secluded hilltop. They would experience great difficulty accessing the joy.
I am referring, of course, to Israel’s disabled population.
As a proud member of the ALEH team, viewing every situation from the vantage point of Israel’s severely disabled population has become second nature to me. But it is clear that few others are aware of the necessity to do so.
While Yom Ha’atzmaut may be the ultimate day off for most Israeli citizens, it is a day wrought with frustration for those who are restricted by disabilities and their families.
Before the fun even begins, arrival proves to be a challenge for the disabled. Our national parks are rocky and hilly, usually without handrails or paved paths for wheel chairs. For the handicapped, this means a long, drawn out process of getting settled. Often, it means not attending the festivities at all.
Many families take great pains to accommodate their loved one’s disabilities at home. However, it is a far more difficult task to help them acclimate to the outside world where even the “public places” are not truly built with everyone in mind.
I am often quite distressed by this harsh reality, but I dare not lose hope.
Israel is among the most need-sensitive countries in the Middle East (if not the world), and our innovative technologies have begun making the impossible possible. (Israel’s disabled population has been at the receiving end of some truly miraculous and life-altering advances.)
As I see it, it is really just a matter of staying focused and making sure that we continue to march forward toward greater inclusion for our disabled population. Because as Major General (res.) Doron Almog, one of the most vocal champions of the disabled population in Israel, frequently says, “Our generation will be judged by the way we treat the weakest members of society.”
The key to providing Israel’s severely disabled children with the opportunity to develop to their fullest potentials (our mission and passion) is removing whatever barriers we can to allow them full access to experiences that will both help them grow and enrich their lives. Even if the disabled population cannot participate in the same way, we must still afford them access.
As we approach Lag Ba’Omer, we should consider those who will be left on the sidelines while the rest of the country enjoys two days of bonfires and barbecues. We should realize that everyone deserves to experience unrestricted, free-spirited celebration. And do everything in our power to make it so.