Ruderman foundation, govt of Israel and JDC help special needs children in Israel

This is the story making the rounds today, thanks to the Foundation Center.

The Ruderman Foundation, the government of Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee have each pitched in $2 million to help  children with special needs in Israel, according to this story in The Wall Street Journal circulated today.

With a $2 million gift from his family foundation, $2 million from the New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and $2 million from the Israeli government, the former lawyer and lobbyist has launched Israel Unlimited, a three-year partnership aimed at helping people with special needs in Israel. "I want people with disabilities to be more integrated into society and to find a level of independence that is comfortable for them," says Mr. Ruderman, a father of four who moved to Israel in 2005. "Our foundation is working to make this a more significant issue as it affects the lives of more and more people."

It was Mr. Ruderman’s gift that unlocked the $6 million grant. The Joint Distribution Committee had conducted research on the nearly 700,000 people with special needs in Israel but needed additional funds to launch a formal program and get the government to partner with them.

If the partnership is successful, the Israeli government could adopt the programs permanently and expand them across the country, says Steve Schwager, CEO of the Joint Distribution Committee.

"Funding often happens in silos, without interaction," says Mr. Ruderman. "But there was no way we could do this ourselves. By partnering with the JDC and the government, instead of six million, it could turn into an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars."

If you recall, we wrote extensively about the pilot for this initiative this time last year, when Ruderman worked with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies to start Gateways: Access to Jewish Education a smaller scale project to help children with special needs in Boston.

Ruderman, who had never been involved with the Jewish federation system, came to view the system as something that could provide leverage to foundations to help solve big problems in the community.

As The Fundermentalist wrote:

When looking at how the Jewish communal world can dig out of its financial hole, some groups are eyeing existing infrastructure to build something new.

Jay Ruderman, the chairman of his family’s foundation, said he never had been involved with the federation system until his family decided six years ago to start a foundation focused on special needs education in the Jewish community. The Rudermans believed they could maximize their impact by working with other like-minded foundations — and their local federation in Boston.

The Boston federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, had been working to revamp the local day school system through Peerless Excellence, an initiative launched with a $45 million grant from anonymous donors.

That attracted the Ruderman Family Foundation, which came on board with a grant to help two older organizations, Etgar L’Noar and the Jewish Special Education Collaborative, merge in 2006. The result was a group called Gateways: Access to Jewish Education.

Through Gateways and a multimillion-dollar investment from the Rudermans, Boston has been able to place dedicated staff in 12 of the area’s Jewish day schools for special needs students. The initiative also has helped schools rewrite their missions to include special needs programming. This has opened the doors wider for special needs students and led to greater enrollment and better service, according to the foundation and the federation.

The key here is that a foundation decided to focus its mission instead of spreading around its money to a number of organizations, and then the federation helped the foundation pinpoint and enact its plan, Ruderman said.

"If you really want to have an impact on society, then try to take whatever you have and do it in the biggest way possible," Ruderman told The Fundermentalist. "Try to form partnerships with federations and other donors and make them true partners."

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