A Visit to Shekel Institute in Jerusalem

Shekel Institute: A visit is a must! You will come away with your ideas about the disabled forever turned on their heads.
Shekel’s pervasive philosophy is: Everyone, everyone, has a purpose and a place in this world, and a valuable contribution to make.

Click on the arrows in the gallery to view each full-size picture.



In my blog post about Yad Lakashish, I noted:

There is never a time I travel to Israel and I am not blown away by their accomplishments. Israel is known and admired for their contributions in every field, technical, medical, artistic, agricultural to name just a few. But there is a field I hope many other countries will adopt from the Israeli exemplar: Their admirable work with all the people who live, at some point in their lives, on the margins of society: The elderly, the frail, the foreigner, the disabled.

Israel’s in a utilitarian culture par excellence.

Utilitarian in every imaginable sense of the term: Not just material but social, cultural and emotional. This virtue lends cosmic proportions and a heart of gold to the country that takes up but a tiny dot on the map of this world wide web”

Here is Shekel’s Mission Statement, taken straight from their site, a more thorough description than I could furnish:

SHEKEL-Community Services for People with Special Needs is Israel’s leading organization for integrating people with special needs in the community. In order to advance this goal, SHEKEL has created a wide array of programs and support systems offering a plethora of services and equal opportunity for people with special needs.

SHEKEL was founded in 1979 by Israel’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Joint Israel, and the Jerusalem Municipality. Today, 550 employees and 700 volunteers assist 8,000 people with special needs from every sector of Israeli society: Jews, Arabs, Christians, religious and secular.

SHEKEL’s vision is to develop community services for every person with a disability in order to enable independent functioning at home, work, and during leisure and social activities. Services are provided at the highest professional level while taking into account the individual’s needs and interests, and allowing for a life of respect, self-fulfillment, inclusion and participation in the general community as people with equal rights.

SHEKEL provides services to people from different sectors with various needs and disabilities. Its diversified structure enables individualization for each population group, including the following:

  • learning disabilities  
  • intellectual disabilities  
  • PDD  
  • Asperger’s Syndrome  
  • physical disabilities  
  • sensory impairment  
  • people who require nursing care

You will fall in love with the people running Shekel every bit as much as you will with the residents.

Nothing gets past lovely project director Ayelet’s alert mind: deceptively laid back and gentle, she hatches projects a mile a minute. Examples: When I mentioned my new product line, Levana Meal Replacement, needs representation in Israel, before five minutes were up she had not one but two brilliant ideas:
– Shekel has several plants that can package our product in Israel for Israeli consumers.
– Many older adults on their program lose the ability to digest solid food. Levana Meal Replacement to the rescue! We even discussed hosting an event in the near future where I would give a cooking demonstration, right in their Restaurant (more about this), featuring several dishes showcasing our product. This really made my day: Can’t wait!

Endlessly devoted Sharon talks enthusiastically and with a clipped British accent about her many charges and their many skills. She makes a recurrent point, which is borne out every moment of our visit: there is no difference between the emotional makeup of a normal person and that of a disabled one. To illustrate, she chose the powerful example of a severely disabled child who was once taken on a motorcycle ride by one of their volunteers, took his place strapped to the rider and grinned and clapped his hands delightedly. “He just knew a motorcycle ride is thrilling, just as we all know”. Sharon shared the picture (displayed) of a young woman with severe cerebral palsy who, unable to use her hands for a knitting project, actually proceeded to show her supervisors how she will hold her tool with her mouth and how she will direct it to execute a knitting project as perfectly as her able-handed friends.

Many of these special-needs adults go on to become veritable foremen in their respective division (candle making, silk screening, soap making, engraving, sewing, embroidery and much more). Every single room is a beehive: the mood is high and a lot of impeccable work gets done professionally.

Shekel houses a section of Mobileye, an Israeli company that makes sensors and cameras for driverless vehicles.

Shekel’s Mobileye spacious computer room is a haven for highly functioning and high tech autistic young adults who wouldn’t readily integrate in a mainstream working environment.

Young Dana explained in Hebrew that she has a busy and exciting life: Until 3 pm, she is in charge of the project assigned to her at Shekel, but after 3 pm, she added with a mischievous smile, scanning her listeners’ faces for signs of well-justified amazement, she is … an actress! Shekels stages plays, concerts, trips for their residents.

Shekel has recently opened a restaurant right on their premises, called Harutzim Bistro, the brainchild of two talented and devoted young men with a heart of gold (if memory serves, a contractor and a chef) who came up with this brilliant concept: a restaurant that is run by fully functional people, but who employs disabled adults in every part of their operation. We just could not believe the fabulous meal we enjoyed there: seasonal, colorful, sizzling fresh, beautifully cooked,  presented with whimsical and self-deprecating simplicity, all in an upbeat atmosphere and at sensible prices. Not surprisingly, the two men were asked to take their show on the road, so expect more of these restaurants running on this format.

Are you looking for volunteer work loaded with purpose and meaning? One word: Shekel!

Any work you will volunteer at Shekel is money and time excellently spent: I guarantee you an uplifting day!

And be sure to visit Shekel Gift Store on your way out. It might prove impossible to chose among the beautiful gifts, each of which tells a beautiful story, so be prepared to buy one of each and call it a day!