Follow Giovanna, a hotel school undergrad at Cornell University, during her summer 2015 global service learning internship with the Israel Commission for the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities, the Israel Ministry of Trade, and Elwyn, a non-profit organization serving individuals with disabilities. This opportunity was sponsored by the Employment and Disability Institute at the ILR School, Cornell University through funding from the K. Lisa Yang Gift Fund.
Excited to be chosen for the EDI GSL Experience in Israel
Goodbyes are hard, and when you’re leaving a place like
Israel it is especially hard. So to fix the problem, I decided in my cab ride
to the airport back home that I would be back in Israel someday soon. Having chilled
by the picturesque Sea of Galilee, hung out with friends in Tel Aviv, and experienced
historic Jerusalem, the hardest thing to leave behind was probably the schawarma, a meat preparation usually
stuffed inside pita with hummus and
fresh salad, so of course I had no choice in the matter.
The past six weeks were an amazing time of growth, both in a
professional sense and in helping me broaden my perspective on the world. Sitting
in Professor Adler and his wife Ruth’s house in Jerusalem for an evening meal
my last week in Israel, it was hard to imagine that only a year earlier I had
signed up for his class on Israeli Labor Law at Cornell and here I was twelve
months later seeing it in action and helping to shape its implementation.
Being the first Cornell Global Service Learning Interns in a
country that is mecca to three of the world’s major religions as well as the
site of conflict between multiple competing interests has its quirks. On the
surface everything looks naturally normal: it is hard to imagine sometimes that
this is the country that I often see in the news, in the context of ethnic
conflict and suicide bombs (I have a theory that among its other distinctions,
Israel generates the most news per capita in the world). But the quiet resiliency
that pervades the culture of this land is a sight to behold: the Show Goes On
as an artist once said. On a typical morning, children head to school. Tourists
amble among sites that have existed for millennia. Vendors at the slightly
smelly, but always bustling suq, announce
their obnoxiously overpriced olives and cheeses and meats and sweets for sale,
waiting for a passerby to bargain.
Inside a Coffee Shop in the Old City
But in another sense, this relative peace is not as normal
as it seems: it is a result of the constant vigilance of elite security forces preserving
this tiny sliver of a country amidst a sea of often-unfriendly neighbors. We spent
a weekend in a kibbutz, or community,
overlooking Gaza with a bunch of kids fulfilling their two or three years of
mandatory military service. The calm, nonchalant
way guys and gals my age talk about war and death, as well their role in it,
belies the fact that it is their very service that keeps this country together.
They all have different opinions about military service, of course. Some are
resentful that the prime years of their life are being wasted away when they
could be attending university or getting a job instead. Others have made aliyah from countries ranging from
Australia to the United States, knowingly realizing that it would mean transitioning
into military life and learning the language and culture all within the span of
a couple months. According to a popular book titled Start-Up Nation: The Story if Israel's Economic Miracle, it is the fact of mandatory military service that has been one of the key drivers in making Israel the thriving, entrepreneurial hub that it is.
All this goes to say, of course, that the regardless of the
way you look at it, security is a carefully guarded premium in Israel that
allows the engines of government and private enterprise and non-profits to run
on a daily basis, which is what we were in Israel to study in the first place. Interviewing
over twenty individuals at the forefront of all three sectors helped us to capture a
multi-faceted perspective of disability policy in the country, which is
constantly evolving and moving forward. Despite its relative youth, the country has shot
ahead to implementing legislation modeled after the United States and countries in Europe. As always, work remains to be done and our job has involved
putting together the puzzle of how policy in Israel compares with the United
States, best practices that are already being implemented, and how the two can
be merged to maximize employment for the nearly one-fifth of the working-age
population that is disabled.
Flowerboxes in Jerusalem
So as we wrap up not only our trip to Israel, but our
research for the summer, we would like to thank you, our readers, for following
our blog and can’t wait to share more in person! A special shout-out to all the
staff at the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell and our co-workers
at the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, as well
as Professor and Mrs. Adler and Cornell Abroad Coordinator Rivka Sillam for
your support throughout this internship and making our stay better than we
could have imagined.
So until next time, and hopefully next year in Jerusalem,
Hello! Sorry about the lack of blog posts- it
means we are busy working, traveling, and having fun. Outside of work we have
had chances to see various historical sites. We visited Masada, the mountain where Jewish
exiles succumbed to the Roman Empire in the first century. Down the road from
Masada is Ein Gedi, the desert oasis where King David was said to have hid from
Ein Gedi with Dead Sea in background
We have gotten to travel Israel to conduct work interviews as
well. Just about every day we have been traveling to different organizations to
conduct research. We have visited many companies in and around Tel Aviv, in
cities like Herzliya, Ramat Gan, Roshe Litzion, Natanya, Haifa, and more.
Last week we attended a meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli
Parliament. The meeting was about the best practices and policies for employing
people with disabilities in Israel. It featured numerous organizations we have
been in contact with. It was nice to see familiar faces and meet more of the influential
people involved with employing people with disabilities in Israel.