Birthright Gives Special Ed Youth an Israel Experience

March 17, 2012  

Eight young Jewish adults who have various degrees of mental and physical disabilities spent ten days touring Israel, on the first trip of its kind from the UK, thanks to Taglit-Birthright Israel, UJIA and Norwood.

The UJIA Birthright-Norwood ‘Limitless’ program is a special Taglit-Birthright Israel trip that took nearly two years to plan.

“Although we have had special needs group’s from North America, this is the first from the UK and Europe,” Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO, Gidi Mark said, “and it has been an enormous success. Birthright Israel has a diverse range of niche groups, from business and culinary to baseball and fashion groups. While this might have been a little different because of the level of support needed by the participants, it is the same type of encounter for them and we’re pleased they were able to share in this life-changing experience that every young Jewish adult has been experiencing till now.”

Mark added, “We believe it’s very important to have these types of groups on Birthright Israel, and this three-way partnership with the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) and Norwood, a Jewish charity that supports people with learning disabilities, means that the possibilities are ‘Limitless’.”

This group comprised eight young Jewish adults, 12 support workers, two educational leaders, a tour guide, a specialist manager, and two Israeli soldiers, who joined the group as part of Birthright’s Mifgash (Encounter) program.

“As with a regular trip, the goal is for them to connect to Israel, for them to feel a connection to their Jewish heritage and Jewish identity,” Lorena Gelb of UJIA told Arutz Sheva.

Yoel Meir, who served as a tour guide during the trip, explained that on the one hand the trip, by nature, would approach things in different way than a regular trip.

“On the other hand, there’s an awful lot of things that we are able to do with them that we wouldn’t necessarily do with other Birthright groups,” Meir said, explaining the activities in this trip are more creative and more artistic.

“It’s been an interesting challenge for me, as an educator, to find different ways of reaching the group because of the difference in the group from a standard group,” he said.

“They’ve taken an awful lot [from the trip], and I think that people’s first impression that a group such as this perhaps wouldn’t be able to take something is very very far from the truth,” said Meir.

Since its establishment in 2000, Taglit-Birthright Israel has given free, 10-day educational tours to more than 300,000 Jewish people from more than 54 countries. Of this number, about 50,000 were Israelis, including soldiers (mostly from the IDF’s elite units) and students. Over the past decade, Taglit-Birthright Israel has contributed over 1.5 billion shekels to the Israeli tourism industry.

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