Russian Jews and Israeli agency address gap in services for children with disabilities
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Russian Jews and Israeli agency address gap in services for children with disabilities

(JTA) — Local Jewish leaders and an Israeli social services agency are teaming up  to address the growing plight of disabled Jewish children in Russia.

The Sept. 14 signing of a cooperation agreement between Shalva and the Russian Jewish Congress follows a s2015 health reform in Russia that discontinued services for hundreds of thousands of disabled persons there.

The Shalva National Center in Jerusalem treats some 2,000 children with disabilities, making it one of the largest institutions of its kind in the Middle East.

The Russian Jewish Congress already has special programs in place for approximately 600 Russian children with disabilities, many of them from the Jewish community, the two groups said in a statement about their cooperation.

“Shalva is making Israel a world leader in the field of special needs, and for me it is very meaningful to see this global movement stemming from the holy city of Jerusalem,” said Jan Piskunov, a member of the executive board of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Following the overhaul of Russia’s public health services, about half a million patients were denied disability benefits. Critics say the measures are hurting the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

The number of Russians formally recognized as disabled dropped from nearly 13 million in early 2014 to 12.45 million in September 2015.

According to senior executives of the Russian Jewish Congress, Russia’s infrastructure for providing disability services is “sorely lacking” even for those entitled to receive benefits, especially in the areas of early intervention and family support.

Over 25 years, professionals at Shalva – the organization’s name means “serenity” in Hebrew — have developed and perfected many professional tools and techniques, Avi Samuels, the institution’s chairman, said.

Delegations responsible for implementing the Russian Jewish Congress’ cooperation have visited Shalva in recent weeks to study its methods and Shalva will be a partner in implementing them in Russia, the two organizations said in a joint statement issued Monday.