Excited to be chosen for the EDI GSL Experience in Israel

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Reflection On My First Week at Elwyn

I can’t believe Lawrence and I are already starting week 2 at Elwyn! My experience at Elwyn has been vastly different than the Commission, and they are constantly keeping us busy and on our toes. While at the Commission I spent my days doing research for policy development, at Elwyn I am visiting the sites where these policies will be taking effect, which is great to see.
Our supervisor, Janet, has put together an incredible schedule for us, with each day packed with various site visits and meetings. So far we have visited sheltered workshops, several competitive employment sites (Triumph factory, a bakery, the Knesset), as well as several residential facilities. While I knew about all the different services Elwyn provides, actually seeing them all in action and how they differ based on individuals’ needs has left me incredibly impressed. I’ve seen things as different as the Elwyn dental facility to the sensory garden to a theatre group rehearsal.

Sensory Garden- Sight Section

Sensory Garden- Touch Section
Sensory Garden- Touch Section (fur underneath a table)

Sensory Garden- Sound Section (drums)

Sensory Garden- Smell Section
Many of the programs and services Elwyn provides are on par with the expectations of the global disability community. Elwyn’s competitive employment placements are impressive and the job coaches and placement staff are incredibly dedicated to helping the individuals obtain and maintain meaningful employment.  We saw several employees working well in integrative settings, enjoying their jobs and interacting with their co-workers; yet, we also saw the challenges that go along with such employment, by speaking with managers who noted the extra difficulties associated with employing people with disabilities and seeing a job coach fighting with a worker who refused to do her job.
A worker with a disability making pies
Cakes decorated by a worker with a disability

Elwyn also showed us a few of their different residential models. On the Jerusalem campus, there are several buildings that house individuals with disabilities, all of which have easy access to the on-site medical, dental, and health clinics as well as the various workshops operated by Elwyn. While the extensiveness of the services available are impressive, I wonder how much interaction with the wider community the residents there experience. On the other hand, we also visited one of the apartments operated by Elwyn, which houses six individuals with disabilities and has one staff member on duty all times. The residents of the apartment were extremely high functioning and self-sufficient; they did their own laundry, helped in the kitchen, navigated public transportation on their own, and had the independence to come and go as they pleased. Their home was comparable to some of the group homes in America, but I really liked that it was in an apartment building in the city (right above a supermarket) where the individuals were able to directly interact with neighbors and the wider community.

Ceramics studio- individuals at Elwyn decorate the pottery and sell it; they keep all profits

A room with all the products made by individuals serviced by Elwyn 

In short, Elwyn really does provide something for everyone! Last week I spoke with a speech pathologist at Elwyn that made aliyah from New Jersey, and she said that Israeli services and programs for people with disabilities were behind the United States, but the gap is closing.  Seeing Elwyn’s services has made me believe that she is right. While some of its programs may be a bit inconsistent with those in the USA, specifically in terms of sheltered employment, the competitive employment models it has been developing and their great apartments are clearly more cutting edge.  Furthermore, their innovative and creative offerings such as a professional theatre group for people with disabilities at the Israel Museum that has gained hundreds of community fans, are something that I would love to see instituted by other organizations around the world.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Long Weekend- Lawrence's travels

From Jerusalem to Eilat to Mitzpe Ramon to Beersheba and back!

Hello! Tomorrow Laura and I start at Elwyn, so this past weekend we both decided to do some sightseeing. Laura went to Tel Aviv to visit some family friends. I decided to figure out the bus systems in Israel so that I could travel to Eilat (the southernmost tip of Israel). It is a beach resort town. The temperature reached 104 degrees! I was not ready for that. The beaches were crowded on Shabbat and the mall that was next door was 50% open.
After 2 nights in Eilat, I traveled by bus to Mitzpe Ramon. I was able to visit Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh means "crater," but this crater was formed through weathering, not an asteroid). I hiked through the top of the crater and took pictures, especially when I saw various ibex. They look like a deer that is the size of a dog.
After seeing the Ramon Crater for a day, I traveled back to Jerusalem by transferring buses in Beersheva. On the bus, I met a 19 year old female Israeli soldier. We talked about the military service in Israel and how weapon laws and protection are much stricter than in the United States. Even at breakfast today, I spoke with a family from Sweden that said they were too afraid to visit the United States because of the lack of gun control. It made me realize what I different world I live in in the United States.

The female worker from the Ramon Crater visitor center showed me where the bus stop was. She said she was going to a wedding in Beersheva. When she started walking away from the bus stop, I asked, "Where are you going, I thought you said you are going to Beersheva too?" And she replied, "I am, but I am going to hitchhike because the bus will make me late." She had a little giggle because she realized that in America, a pretty young female like her would NEVER hitchhike. I do not plan to hitchhike AT ALL just to make that clear, but I find it inspiring that a nation like Israel can be safe enough that people can get into cars with strangers and not worry about guns and violence.
Desert Monitor "showing off his good side" --> he could use some moisturizer!

 Taking the stereotypical "American selfie" picture on a bench at the edge of the Makhtesh
They have 3.5% milk! I'm stunned.

This is an example of what the buses looked like. I feel like I was one of the only tourists on these inter-city buses! We passed through a bunch of military bases and small towns to pick up passengers.

After I arrived at the Beersheva Bus Station, I transferred to a bus that went to Jerusalem and made it back to the apartment safely. Traveling in Israel can be difficult when you do not understand the Hebrew language, but it is definitely possible. If I can do it all on my own, I am sure other people can do it too.

The Yale University "Whiffenpoofs" all-male Class of 2013 A Capella concert

I forgot to mention that last week, I tagged along with one of Laura and my acquaintances to see an A Capella concert at the Jerusalem YMCA. I got a little lost using the bus system trying to find the place, but it happens. The Whiffenpoofs are traveling all around the world to do concerts. Since Laura and I were not able to get tickets for Barbra Streisand's concert (Bill Clinton, Sharon Stone, and Robert DeNiro also showed up here in Jerusalem to celebrate President Shimon Peres's 90th birthday), I feel that the Whiffenpoofs are the next closest thing. At least it is the closest thing in my price range!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Reflection on my Time at the Commission

Today was our last day at the Commission. It is bittersweet to be concluding our time there, but I definitely feel that I accomplished a lot over the last three weeks. As we submitted our final report, Lawrence and I talked about how it seems like only yesterday that we were given the lofty research assignment, and even though we were concerned about finishing it on time, we are now so proud of the 55 page comprehensive analysis we put together on sheltered workshop policies in Austria, Canada, the UK, and the USA.

This morning I met with Gaby for a couple of hours to go over some last minute questions about my work on the accessibility document that I edited and wrote a brief report on for the UN. She explained to me how helpful it was for the Commission, as nobody in the office would have been capable of translating such a long document into proper English and how excited they are to be able to share with other nations the accessibility policies that Israel is implementing. Hearing that certainly made all of the hard work and time worth while!

Additionally, this afternoon Lawrence and I had a final meeting with The Commissioner, Gaby and Yisrael to discuss our findings and reflect on our experiences at the Commission. It was interesting to examine what other countries and certain states' orientations are toward sheltered workshops, particularly as Israel is grappling with determining how to address them. Even though I already have my opinions regarding the effectiveness and viability of workshops, I think that the conversation and my work over the past few weeks has caused me to reflect on other factors and issues that I never fully considered. Every country we discussed has had their successes and failures in the way that they handle workshops, and I think that Israel is trying to take a step back and really learn from other nation's examples (and failures) before they formulate the details of their own policies. Being able to speak to the Commissioner about my work and resultant findings and recommendations truly made me feel like I made a significant contribution toward the development of the sheltered workshop bill in Israel, which is extremely rewarding.

This experience has truly been a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful to the Commission and all those at EDI, Cornell, and in Israel who made my internship possible. I am sure that my time at Elwyn will prove to be just as valuable.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Week 3 in Jerusalem: Dead Sea, Hebrew University, and Babies?

My first time on a bus in Israel, a busy mother asks me to hold onto her red-headed baby for a few minutes

Week 3 in Jerusalem

Hi friends!

Laura and I have been finishing up our project at the Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities. Next week we will begin our work at Israel Elwyn. For information, check out Elwyn's website by clicking here.

On Sunday, Laura and I took the green Egged bus #68 to Hebrew University to sit in on a labor law class taught by Judge Steve Adler. He is a visiting professor at Cornell University during the fall semester. As you can see from the picture, our first time on the bus was exciting! Not only do bus drivers make change for passengers while making left turns through intersections, but passengers who have their hands full might plop a baby in your lap!

During Judge Adler's class, we learned about child labor law violations in Israel. A guest presenter from a union in Israel told us that approximately 70% of small business owners in Israel violate child labor laws. We saw hidden video footage of employers making threats to their teenage employees telling them that the union organizers were frauds. Many of these employers make threats to the young employees or take away their shifts so that youth workers will be afraid to pursue their workers' rights. It was also very interesting to see the variety of students in the class and what they had to say about the subject. Hebrew University is very diverse: men, women, Jews, Muslims, Christians, young students, and older students all take classes together, mostly in Hebrew and sometimes in English.

Over the weekend, Laura and I decided to travel to the Dead Sea, Masada, and Ein Gedi. On Monday, we did the City of David tunnels which were narrow, had low ceilings, and had water up to our knees! Yesterday we did the Western Wall Tunnels. We plan on traveling a bit this weekend as well.

At work, surprisingly, we still have some trouble getting through security. We work in a high-rise government building where we have our bags searched upon entry and are questioned about where we are going and what we are doing. The other day, the new guards decided to ask Laura and me for our photo IDs. We showed our state driver's licenses and our State of Israel Border Control tickets, but the guards told us that we need to carry our passports since we are not Israeli citizens. We were a bit frustrated considering we have been working here for 3 weeks and it seems like every morning we get interrogated by various guards who act as if they have never seen us before and do not know about the Commission at all. All the full-time employees simply swipe and card and walk right into the building. Then we realized that these guards are being extra safe by trying to make sure that anyone who seems the slightest bit suspicious does not get into any government offices. While it can be frustrating and somewhat difficult to enter the building each morning, we both agree that we feel very safe (and that's how it should be).

Tomorrow is our last day working at the Commission. It has been a very rigorous and enlightening experience for both of us. We have a long itinerary planned by Elwyn, so we will likely have many blog posts to share with you in the coming weeks!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

And onto week 3!

Shalom Havirm (Hello Friends),

I cannot believe that I am already beginning my third week here in Israel. With each passing day I am constantly finding new places and learning interesting facts that continue to instill in me a greater appreciation for this amazing country and its culture.

At the Commission, I have really enjoyed learning more about Israeli accessibility laws through my work on the regulations. I am almost done with the document, and I just have to finish up writing the abstract for its presentation at the United Nations. Lawrence and I are also very fortunate to be able to attend the UN conference in New York City with the Israeli Commission the week after we return to the States. I also began working on some research that will serve as background information for a new bill the Commission is drafting to better regulate sheltered workshops. Because my experience has been so focused on learning about integrative opportunities for employment, I really appreciate having the opportunity to conduct an in depth study of sheltered workshops and their development in the United States, as I now have a much better foundation in disability history particularly as it relates to sheltered workshops. Next week I will start to look at practices in England, so it will be interesting to learn more about the UK’s position on sheltered workshops. Also, I wanted to convey my sincere appreciation to all of the EDI staff that so quickly responded to my information requests with helpful responses! Thank you!

 Outside of work Lawrence and I have also been keeping busy. We did some more touring this week and I actually just returned from a trip to Ein Gedi, Masada, and the Dead Sea. We also were lucky enough to spend some time with Judy, who departed from her visit yesterday.  Judy arranged a meeting for us with Rivka and Judge Adler, both of whom have been great resources during our time here.  Judge Adler invited us to attend his final class of the semester at Hebrew University’s law school tomorrow, and although understanding the Hebrew might be a challenge, I am eager to experience what a labor law class is like in Israel. On Thursday, Rivka also took Judy, Lawrence and I out for a tour of the area around Hadassah hospital and Ein Karem. Rivka has been such a fantastic resource since we've arrived, and she's dedicated so much time to giving Lawrence and I a local experience of Israel. 

Judy,  Lawrence and me in Ein Karem

Rivka and me in the desert near her daughter Navit's house. 

 Judy also provided us with the updated itinerary for our upcoming internship with Elwyn, which is extremely exciting! They have put together an amazing schedule for Lawrence and I, including trips to Haifa, the Knesset, and meetings with businessmen in Israel. While I am loving my work at the Commission, I am also looking forward to this very different experience.

Thanks for keeping up to date with our posts and for your regular comments. I look forward to sharing more about my experiences here soon!


P.S. For those interested in reading more daily updates from our Israel adventures, I have also been keeping a personal travel blog that can be found here:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Laura, Judy, Rivka, Lawrence at a coffee shop

Week 2 with Judy, Rivka, and Steve Adler

Laura and I have been hard at work at the Commission for Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities. Both of us have helped proofread translated laws for the Commission and now we are almost halfway through our research on sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. Laura is researching the United States and the United Kingdom. I am researching Canada and Austria. We are compiling our findings into a written document that will provide an overview of models for sheltered employment for the Commission. These findings will help support the Commission's goal to better regulate and monitor Israel's sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. By reading through hundreds of pages of government documents, webpages, scholarly articles, and research studies, we will hopefully be able to create a comprehensive document by the end of next week that will be able to articulate all of our research.

The HUGE Mediterranean salad that I got when I met Steve Adler

Today Judy from EDI's New York City office took Laura, Rivka (our American-Israeli contact person), and Judge Steve Adler out to a coffee shop/restaurant in the Mamilla Mall (an outdoor mall on the outskirts of Jerusalem's Old City). Steve Adler teaches law at Hebrew University and Israeli labor law at Cornell University. 

It is great that Judy was able to come all the way from the New York City area to spend the week in Jerusalem. Laura and I were so happy when Judy was able to introduce us to Steve Adler--we are looking forward to sitting in on one of his law classes on Sunday. As usual, Rivka went above and beyond and took us to her daughter's home (her daughter's name is Navit) in one of the suburbs of Jerusalem. Laura and I loved the landscape and the feel of the neighborhoods. We were able to exercise, see dogs, and meet teens who were in a community that prepares them for military service. 

Laura and I decided to work out

When we visited the 18 and 19 year olds who were one week away from the mandatory Israeli military service, we were very inspired by what they had to say. Navit reflected on her experiences in the military and her core family and community values. This suburb community outside Jerusalem is very tight knit--people hitchhike and pick up hitchhikers, they share parks, they feed each others' dogs, and they receive visitors with open arms. These 18 and 19 year olds were also able to embody the warm hospitality of this community by giving Laura and me a tour of their "campsite" area. Navit explained to us that from a young age, most parents and schools in Israel try to teach children to have a goal. If you are crying, the question is not "why is the child crying?" but rather, "for what is the child crying for? what is the child's goal?" Instead of dwelling on why certain things happened in the past, the individual is taught to ask himself/herself "what effect is this event supposed to have on my future?" 

The youth learn to respect Israel as a nation and learn that joining the military after graduation is not designed to encourage fighting, it is designed to encourage the preservation of one's community. It is designed to bring people together, not tear them apart. 

I was so set aback by the responsibility and determination that these young men and women displayed. With minimal adult supervision, these people were using their time to learn more about themselves, their country, and their peers in a safe and meaningful way. Remember: they are only in their late teens!

Laura and I were very lucky to have had this experience--I want to give a HUGE THANK YOU to Navit for translating for me for at least half an hour.
This is one of the men's living quarters

The women's rooms are on the left, the men's on the right

We have met so many new people and visited so many new places! We have lots of things to tell all of you and so check back for new blog posts from Laura and me. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures:
The New York State license plate would not have been out of the ordinary, if we weren't in Jerusalem!

On Sabbath (Shabbat), King George Street had no open shops, no pedestrians, no cars

The nightly news has a sign language interpreter in the corner of the screen!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

And Onto Week 2!

Week 1 in Israel has been absolutely amazing! From the work I've been doing at the Commission to just being able to explore such a lively and historical city, I am constantly faced with new learning experiences.

I am really enjoying working at the Commission. Our co-workers are all so nice and welcoming, and I've been able to have several really interesting conversations about differences and similarities between the US and Israel, generally and in terms of disability policy. After meeting with Gaby and the Commissioner on Friday, I think we were all surprised to find out that in many ways Israel and America are facing similar issues in attempts to improve opportunities, both generally and in terms of employment, for persons with disabilities. Additionally, this past week I've been reviewing a document that outlines the regulations that apply to Israeli service providers in regard to accessibility. It was interesting to read about all of the different requirements, which were extremely well thought out and varied from police interrogations of persons with disabilities to museum exhibitions.

Last night Lawrence and I had the pleasure of going to services and having dinner with Rivka and her family. Everyone was so incredibly warm and hospitable, and I really enjoyed getting to learn more about Israel from the locals as well as experiencing what Shabbat is like in Jerusalem.

With Judy's arrival on Monday, I can only imagine that week 2 will prove even more exciting!


Friday, June 7, 2013

First Week in Jerusalem, First Week at the Commission

It is hard to believe it, but Laura and I have been in Jerusalem since last Saturday. We have learned so many new things about Israel and we have met so many people with unique stories. Above is a picture of the two of us at the office.

Our workday routine has consisted of

  1. Wake up and get ready for work (long pants/skirt, shirt that covers the shoulders, pack a sandwich and yogurt for lunch).
  2. Go to the dining room of the bed and breakfast. Eat sandwich filled with cheese, tomato, and olives. Drink tea/coffee.
  3. Walk 5 minutes to work. On the way, we pass a day program center for Israeli children with disabilities. There's also a Toyota dealership across the street.
  4. Go through the thorough security at the entrance to the building.
  5. Be in our shared office room by 9 AM.
  6. Read, research, type, and meet with co-workers.
  7. Leave work at 4 PM.
We have had the chance to help solidify the translation of Israeli laws concerning disabilities. Also, we have been conducting extensive research on sheltered workshops versus supported employment for people with disabilities in foreign nations. Our projects are going to help Israel meet some of the goals outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (for more info, see

At work, I have had some very engaging conversations about the opportunities that people with disabilities have in Israel. Laura and I have also been able to answer many questions about education, employment, and housing options for people with disabilities in the United States.

In Jerusalem, we have traveled into the Old City again to see a lights show at night. It was extremely beautiful. We also traveled to the Israel Museum and Yad Vashem (a museum to remember the Holocaust). At Yad Vashem, I ran into the Cornell Hillel Taglit Birthright group and proceeded with them to the outdoor Mehane Yehuda marketplace.

Laura and I have many more plans for sightseeing. Due to the Sabbath, the streets, the transportation, and the markets get extremely busy on Thursday afternoons/Friday until sundown because everyone is out and about. Once it gets dark on Friday, it is difficult to get around until Saturday evening. We are attempting to plan around this as best as we can! 

Julius Caesar coin inside the Israel Museum

This is kind of what our breakfasts look like (taken from Food Network website)

Laura and I have had the opportunity to absorb so many experiences and I have found myself asking many questions about the culture--especially as it pertains to disability rights in Israel. Next week, I hope to be able to explain some of the things Laura and I have learned during our short time here in Jerusalem. Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Welcome to Jerusalem!

Today was our first day in Jerusalem and it was exciting to get to see some more of the city. We had an early morning, making trips to the bank and then the local marketplace to get some food for the week. We had our first real Israeli falafel, and then headed over to the Old City for a two-hour tour.

The tour brought us through the four quarters of Jerusalem and highlighted the holy sites for each of the represented religions (Christians, Muslims, Jews and Armenians). What struck me the most as we wandered the pathways of the Old City was how much of a long and complex history Jerusalem possesses. Despite all of the issues of conflict, it was interesting to see how different religions and factions manage to coexist in the city.

Rivka, the Cornell liaison in Israel, then took us for dinner at the Jerusalem Theatre. After some delicious food and much need rehydration, we spend a couple of hours driving around with Rivka, who gave us a fantastic tour of Jerusalem; some of the highlights included viewing the Knesset, the President’s house, a Kibbutz, Hebrew University, and the promenade.  Seeing these sites provided us with a taste for the city and a better idea of the various places to visit more in depth in the future.

While Lawrence and I are still a bit jet-lagged, we are greatly looking forward to our first day at the Commission tomorrow!

Laila Tov (goodnight),