Temple Isaiah Talk Focuses on Inclusion, Empowerment Timed to Disability and Awareness Month


In recognition of Jewish Disability, Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), which takes place in February of each year, Temple Isaiah in Fulton hosted an event in partnership with the Jewish National Fund USA (JNF-USA) on Feb. 8, focusing on the Israeli hospital and rehabilitation center ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village.

Dr. Larry and Naomi Amsterdam of Baltimore plant a tree at the ADI Negev campus in Israel in 2014. (Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA))

Its director of development, Elie Klein, a Baltimore native, spoke at length about treatment offered at the hospital, significant developments residents have made over the years and how they hope to expand such services in the future.

JDAIM is a collaborative effort across several Jewish community organizations to better educate people in and outside of the Jewish community about those grappling with severe disabilities, as well as how to better accommodate them.

“Does focusing on disability inclusion and equity as Jewish values need its own month?” Klein asked in his presentation, which was attended by nearly three-dozen Temple Isaiah members and faculty. “We should be living that every single day. But the truth is that we’re busy people and have a lot of stuff going on. So unless we’re forced to focus on it, we sometimes miss the forest for the trees, and that’s why [JDAIM] is so important.”

Klein, who attended school in Silver Spring, entered the world of public relations for nonprofit organizations early in his career. He made aliyah in 2009 and now lives with his family in Bet Shemesh, Israel, approximately an hour away from where he now works at ADI in the country’s Negev Desert in the south.

What sets ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran apart from other hospitals in its area is its focus on care, rehabilitation and education for people with often severe disabilities. Promotional materials for the facility describe it as “The jewel of the Negev,” and “an oasis of kindness in the desert.”

In addition to medical services, ADI Negev also provides a community for disabled people from all over the world to work, play and receive care in an environment that accommodates their needs.

Its 40-acre campus includes a special-education school, hydrotherapy center, farm managed by its residents and a petting zoo, with plans to build a new kindergarten on the horizon.

“We at JNF-USA believe passionately that the inclusion of people with special needs should be woven tightly into the fabric of everyday life,” said Sean Siegel, associate director of JNF-USA. “ADI Negev provides cutting-edge rehabilitative services, special education and medical care, and ensures that Israel remains accessible and successful.”

ADI Negev was initially founded by Didi and Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, named in memory of their son, Eran. Eran was born with autism and several other intellectual disabilities, and passed at age 23 from Castleman disease, a rare disorder with fewer than 5,000 cases in the world. The Almogs’ struggle to find treatment for their son is what led them to create ADI Negev.

Klein related the story of the center’s founding at the Temple Isaiah event. “[Doron] went to the agricultural authority,” he recalled. “There was this big, beautiful plot — 40 acres of land — that was slated for a farmer to come along to plant something. So Doron said, ‘Well, I’m a farmer.’ ”

“ ‘What are you going to plant?’ they asked. And he said, ‘I’m going to plant potential,’ ” related Klein.

Almog currently serves as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel; he was appointed to the position in July 2022.

‘Vulnerable members of society’

“When General Almog established ADI Negev, it was with the idea that a community is judged by the way it tends to its most vulnerable members,” said Naomi Amsterdam, a Baltimore resident who along with her husband, Dr. Larry Amsterdam, is a major donor to ADI Negev. “The respectful, gentle care given to the residents of this Jewish National Fund-USA-supported village represents the highest form of ‘mitzvah.’ ”

The couple donated money to help build the center’s special education wing. Larry, who is a local dentist, also worked with several other local colleagues to build a dental clinic on its premises.

“When I learned that ADI Negev was in need of a dental program, I immediately felt I had to contribute,” explained Larry Amsterdam. “To this day, I am proud to display the beautiful Jewish National Fund-USA plaque I received acknowledging my contribution to this project. Non-Jewish patients who see the plaque have asked me questions about ADI Negev, giving me an opportunity to share how Jewish National Fund-USA serves the needs of all Israelis.”

Some 20 years after its founding, ADI Negev is now home to 170 residents and services 190 students with special needs who live off-campus. They have seen considerable success over that period of time with treating and housing patients.

One particular story that Klein highlighted was of a girl named Anat, who was in a wheelchair and could only move her eyes and mouth. Because of her condition, she struggled to communicate until ADI Negev staff presented her with an eye-gaze computer that can be operated using sight alone. Soon, she was able to tell her parents she wanted to go to the mall, asked about her classmates and even sent them email.

“Now, she talks a mile a minute,” he said, “all using her computer.”

Klein ended his presentation by gifting Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Craig Axler with several crafts that had been made by residents of ADI Negev, including an afikomen bag and some other holiday-related items created as part of the center’s art-therapy programs. The center sells similar patient-made Judaica on its online boutique, with all proceeds going towards the center’s continued operations.

“We’re here because we’re humans,” Klein said of himself and other ADI Negev staff. “And we’re trying to empower these human vulnerable members of Israeli society. We’re here to lift them up. We’re here to help them find their greatest potential.”

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