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Village is Bucolic Setting for Israel’s Developmentally Disabled

Nestled amid shrubs of lavender and mint lies a village that could compete with the most exquisite resorts.

Cradled in a soothing canopy of trees, the compound seems to beckon visitors to come inside.

Soft hues of maize and olive adorn its hilltop lounge, replete with modern art and wood colors.

The beauty is deliberate at this Israeli village, which is designed for the developmentally disabled.

“We got something they didn’t,” says Katrin Tchetchik when discussing the residents of Kishor Village. Tchetchik, who handles external affairs for Kishorit, the nonprofit organization that runs the village, says the center’s designers made sure the developmentally disabled got an exquisite environment.

But Kishor features more than serene aesthetics: It’s provides housing, medical services, leisure activities and employment for its residents.

Kishor aims to create an “atmosphere of affirmation and encouragement” in which residents “can become functioning and contributing members of society,” according to the village’s business plan.

Indeed, Kishor’s 110 residents — aged 18-56 and mostly Israeli, with a few visitors from North America and Europe — take care of the village, from its laundry and gardening to general maintenance.

They participate in afternoon leisure programs such as therapeutic horseback riding and yoga. The more self- sufficient work in Kishor’s industries, assembling pastel-painted wooden toys for sale and tilling the organic farm and garden, which produce organic food for residents’ consumption as well as surplus food that can be sold.

Kishor puts a priority on serving natural food to offset the toll of residents’ medication and reduce potential side effects.

A group of concerned parents and professionals created Kishor to help some of the 45,000 Israelis defined as “borderline” — that is, who don’t require hospitalization but who have special needs that make them dependent.

In particular, parents of disabled children feared for their children’s care when they could no longer provide it.

After years of battling government bureaucracy, the nonprofit village in the central Galilee opened in September 1997 on the former site of Kibbutz Kishor, or “wool,” which sold wool and lavender.

The site was chosen both for its natural beauty and because of Israel’s strategic interest in building Jewish communities in northern Israel, which has a high Arab population.

The Jewish Agency for Israel, the kibbutz movement and Kishorit brokered the deal.

The village subsists primarily on government payments that come through its residents: An Israeli defined as “borderline” receives about $1,500 a month — though that sum will be slashed about 17 percent under the government’s austerity budget, Tchetchik says. Kishor residents transfer that allowance to the village.

Additional funds come from families that can afford an entrance fee, donations, money from the Jewish Agency and from Israel’s Social Security program, which provides matching funds for some of Kishor’s programs.

The village also has some industries, especially its trademark business, Pastel Toys.

Residents make the wooden animals on wheels and in the shape of furniture. They are sold in 30 shops in Israel, and private businesses in Los Angeles and Canada also have begun to sell the toys.

Kishor also has opened its horseback-riding facilities and kennel to the general population, who pay for riding lessons or to board their dogs.

The village also sells milk from its organic goat farm and plans to begin selling goat cheese in the near future.

Still, the facility has its challenges.

Residents frightened by terrorism have required extra meetings to devise an emergency plan for the village, which is equipped with shelters. In some cases, the fears have required hospitalization.

But the chief challenge for the group is its own success: The waiting list to enter Kishor has grown to several hundred people.

While Kishor ultimately hopes to grow to 300-350 residents, it has avoided publicity in Israel for fear that demand will outpace supply.

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