A recurring theme of Yeshua's earthly ministry was the comfort and healing of the disabled. He did this both as a sign for the unbelieving, and out of deep compassion for the afflicted. It is appropriate for those of Yeshua's followers who love and support Israel to follow His example by likewise paying special attention to disabled Israelis.
Shalva, a unique Israeli organization dedicated to empowering handicapped children, has recognized this special love Christians have for the Jewish state and its people, and is reaching out for help.
Founded in 1990 by Kalman and Malki Samuels after their own son, Yossi, was struck blind, deaf and acutely hyperactive by defective vaccinations, Shalva is today “a leader in the field of disability awareness and intervention.”
Shalva boasts a wide array of programs providing care and assistance all the way from birth to age 21. But more importantly, Shalva has assembled a team that works tirelessly to create individual curricula fitting the needs of each child.
“At one-year-old, Miriam refused to eat solid food and was not gaining weight. She had a hard time participating in daily activities, at the day care and at home, and did not move around much,” Shalva speech therapist Talia Cole told Israel Today. “Miriam's teachers and therapists met multiple times a week to brainstorm an intervention method, incorporating each of their therapeutic knowledge, to help Miriam overcome this obstacle. After months of hard work, Miriam now eats a variety of solid foods, is communicating, moving and getting chubbier by the day!”
Shalva also views as part of its mission taking some of the burden off those parents who have gone against the social grain by choosing life “despite a grim prognosis.”
“The staff at Shalva [has become] my own support system. They always are happy to see me, ask how I am doing and treat me like family,” said Dassie Corman, whose son, Ephraim, has Down syndrome.
It is a sad irony that Israel is home to such caring organizations as Shalva, while at the same time Israeli society all but expects mothers to abort children who will be born with “special needs.”
“Very few babies who are suspected of having a mental or physical disability are brought to term. In fact, 9 out of 10 babies with Down syndrome are aborted,” according to a statement released by Shalva. “Where the world would chose to terminate these lives, Shalva is an organization that celebrates these children...[in keeping with] the biblical command to regard the weak and the feeble.”
“It is very holy and very biblical to help those who are struggling or downtrodden,” Kalman Samuels told Israel Today. But as awareness in Israel (slowly) grows that disabled children also deserve life, Shalva has found itself in need of additional backing to expand its activities.
“We have hundreds of kids waiting to get into our programs who we cannot service. And there are hundreds beyond that in need of our services,” said Samuels, as he described the $46-million facility Shalva intends to build. “Insofar as the Christian community is very supportive of Israel, we believe they will also find us worthy of their support.”
Even before it has all the resources needed to operate at full capacity, Shalva is already giving back beyond its primary work with disabled Israeli children. When the McLean Bible Church in Virginia was looking to establish a similar ministry called Jill's House, Shalva was there lend its expertise.
“Staff from McLean came to Shalva and trained alongside our professionals in order to replicate the work in their church,” said Samuels. “We visited on several occasions, they visited us, and they give us full credit for concept and training, which we provided free of charge.”
During a recent visit to Shalva's Jerusalem center, President Shimon Peres summed up the situation well: “All those who criticize Israel should come to Shalva and witness the other side of Israel. The most noble, loving, and caring Israel. I am proud to be part of this Israel.”
To learn more about Shalva: www.shalva.org