Under CJF Program, U.S. and Israel Sharing Solutions to Social Problems

Israel and the United States share not only common social problems, but innovative methods for dealing with them that they have individually developed.

For nearly five years, the two nations have been exchanging techniques they have pioneered at home to deal with such challenges as reading disabilities, self-destructiveness in mentally handicapped people and caring for the frail elderly.

The cooperation is the outgrowth of a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 1984 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Israeli Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The project is coordinated by the Council of Jewish Federations, which seeks to get local federations and other Jewish groups to undertake exchange programs with Israel.

“This agreement recognizes that both countries are pioneers in the delivery of human services; but also recognizes the opportunity for us to learn from Israel and vice versa to improve the quality of social programs binationally,” Anne Haines, who is the project’s coordinator at CJF, said at a recent roundtable discussion of the program.

The discussion, held at the CJF’s Washington Action Office, explained the program to representatives of local and national Jewish organizations, national and local social service organizations, as well as officials of the District of Columbia school system.

‘CHILDREN AT RISK’

One project described at the meeting focused on “children at risk” in Kansas City and northern Israel. It was coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.

The project sent professionals from the University of Haifa to Kansas City to teach their methods of dealing with mentally handicapped children who injure themselves.

In turn, members of the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, a 23-year-old program at the University of Kansas, trained teachers in poor neighborhoods of northern Israel how to teach children who are failing to improve their reading and spelling skills.

Both Dr. Ahmos Rollder, an associate professor of education and behavioral psychology at the University of Haifa, and Dr. Dale Walker, a research associate with the Juniper Gardens project, described how the problems were similar in Israel and the United States.

Walker said that Juniper Gardens had found that children in American inner-city schools receive no more than two minutes a day in actual reading and spelling drills. While the schools had media equipment, which the children could watch, no money was spent on educational programs for those who were failing.

“The same was true in Israel,” she discovered when, under the CJF project, she spent two months at four schools in northern Israel: Shikun Dalet in Tiberias, Osishkin in Nahariya, Kibbutz Shomrat and Moshav Regba.

Shikun Dalet and Nahariya are both low income neighborhoods that are similar to many inner-city areas in the United States.

Sam Asher, associate executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, said that the federation already had a relationship with Shikun Dalet, since it had adopted the neighborhood under the United Jewish Appeal’s Project Renewal program.

Walker and her colleagues brought to the Israeli schools the Juniper Gardens program, in which children are teamed up in pairs. For 10 minutes, one child asks the other to spell words; then, they reverse roles for another 10 minutes.

IMPROVEMENTS IN SCHOOLWORK

As in the United States, the program resulted in improvements not only in the children’s schoolwork but in their attitudes. Both the children and their parents were pleased, Dale said.

Rollder said that 15 percent of mentally handicapped children in Israel are self-destructive, the same percentage as in the United States.

The Haifa group brought to Kansas City their skills, which first teach professionals how to deal with the child on a one-on-one basis and then transfer the skills to the parents.

As in Israel, Rollder said, the children were taught how to overcome their self-destructive actions.

“Lives were affected, lives of children and lives of parents who have seen improvements in their children’s ability to learn,” Asher said.

He urged other communities “to take some risk” and seek their own exchange programs. He said an effort must to be made to see that the techniques developed in the Kansas City-Israel program be used elsewhere.

In addition to the Kansas City project, there are several other exchange programs going on under the Memorandum of Understanding.

STRENGTHENING SELF-HELP PROGRAMS

The Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles is coordinating a program between the cities of Los Angeles and Jerusalem dealing with the frail elderly.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Michigan are cooperating on improving community self-help programs. Involved in the project are Parents of Children with Cancer and Parents of Murdered Children, in the United States, and Families of Mentally-III Children and Families of New Immigrants, in Israel.

The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitation Service and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Brookdale Institute of Gerontology and Adult Human Development in Israel are studying whether a system developed by Brookdale to monitor the care for the elderly can be used elsewhere.

The University of California at Santa Barbara and Tel Aviv University’s Special Education Program for Developmental Disabilities are engaged in a three-year study to explore opportunities for people with developmental disabilities to use computer technology.

The Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta and the Alyn Orthopedic Hospital in Jerusalem are engaged in a three-year program to help persons with spina bifida and other development disabilities gain increased independence. Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the vertebrae of the lower back fail to develop around the spinal cord.

In addition, the CJF offices in Israel and Washington have coordinated a wide range of visits to the United States and Israel by officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, including in one case having personnel work in each other’s offices.

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