Israel’s developmentally disabled receive a loving home

Residents of Kishor Village work in the Pastel Toys factory.The pop group REM may have sung about ‘shiny happy people’, but in the Galilee village of Kishor, you’ll actually find them. Serving as a home for developmentally disabled people with …

Residents of Kishor Village work in the Pastel Toys factory.The pop group REM may have sung about ‘shiny happy people’, but in the Galilee village of Kishor, you’ll actually find them. Serving as a home for developmentally disabled people with special needs who will always require society’s supervision and assistance, Kishor Village provides a permanent home for these people rather than a temporary shelter. Moreover, it gives them the opportunity to work and live a full and independent life.

Kibbutz Kishor was established in 1984, but during the 1990s, it began to encounter financial difficulties. It was then that Shuki Levinger and Yael Shilo decided to realize their dreams and found Kishor Village. At first, they and the original Kishor members lived side by side, but eventually they took over the kibbutz taking advantage of previously built infrastructure and maintaining the kibbutz ideology. Eventually, Levinger and Shilo (ex-wife of one of Israel’s wealthiest entrepreneurs Stef Wertheimer who financially supported Kishor) established the “new” Kishor in September 1997.

Levinger describes that period as “a lingering walk across the corridors of Israeli bureaucracy. It was very difficult for the country’s officials to accept our project. The whole initiative looked very odd to them. They were worried that we wouldn’t be able to fund it. All the same, we eventually got all the help we needed,” he told ISRAEL21c.

There are approximately 45,000 disabled people in Israel, and presently 130 of them live at Kishor; they’re defined as borderline developmentally disabled, meaning they don’t require hospitalization but have special needs that make them dependent.

The first thing that strikes a visitor arriving at Kishor is its physical beauty. Pastels dominate with sky-blue benches and lavender blooms everywhere. The philosophy behind Kishor is that work has rehabilitative powers and creates a bond connecting residents to the place and allowing them to connect with the other communities in the area.

One example of this special correlation is the school for special education that opened in September, 2000. The school accepts pupils from the northern region of Israel, some of whom would have been institutionalized if this special school had not accepted them.

Every resident plays an active role in maintaining the services and the manufacturing facilities of the community. The residents work in the different services of the village, such as the laundry, kitchen, gardening, maintenance and the office. Some of the residents have gained enough independence to work in a nearby plastics factory, kindergarten and nursery and some have chosen the option to move to a kibbutz or to an apartment in the neighboring town.

Haya, 55, a short, chubby woman with smiling green eyes and a round face is the oldest resident of the village. She works in the kitchen as a cook Haya acts and feels like the ‘mother’ of Kishor. Unlike a typical kibbutz dining room where you would find long and crowded tables, at Kishor, the tables are round and people eat their lunch in a more intimate manner.

Kishor grows its own organic food since many of its residents take medication and require this type of produce to maintain a healthy diet.

Nili, 44, a gardener, arrived at Kishor three years ago from Nahariya with her husband, Dror. “We have been married for 14 years and he followed me here even though he had a good job at the Technion,” she says proudly.

Belying her young, innocent appearance, with her hair gathered in a ponytail and a slim figure, Nili gets serious when she speaks about Kishor. “This place had been part of my dreams since I first visited the kibbutz in its early days. I always knew that I would come and live here,” she told ISRAEL21c.

“I have one friend who is mute,” Nili continues. “I taught myself sign language so that I can communicate with her. I also taught her how to ‘speak’ words without uttering them so that we can better understand each other.”

Being a communal society, it is essential that all Kishor members have social skills and the ability to acclimatize to group living. Anyone wishing to join the community is therefore tested and his social abilities examined before he or she can become a member.

Edna, 30, has short brown hair and a boyish look. She works in the dog kennels. “I came to Kishor five years ago from Kiryat Motzkin,” she says. “It was my aunt who told me about the place. The kennel was my first choice to work, and my boyfriend works here as well,” she says proudly.

The couple leads a completely independent life. They live together, and when they want to ‘hang out’ they take the bus to the nearby city of Karmiel. Edna also participates in Kishor’s conflict resolution working group whose function is to solve disputes that may arise between members with the help of a social worker.

The most profitable venture of Kishor is the toy factory Pastel Toys. The brand’s classic wood style toys can be found in shops all over Israel and abroad. Sharon, a red haired woman in her thirties, sits with her fellow workers around a big, square table and paints toys with pastel blue colors. Sharon is a relative newcomer to Kishor. Before joining the kibbutz, she lived independently and worked for a living.

“Though I love working at the factory, I prefer working outside, being independent and getting my own salary,” she said smiling mischievously. ‘Home is where the heart is’ is more than just another cliché for Sharon and the other residents of Kishor; this is the first place they can call ‘home.’