article by keralaguest


									Stop their wheels
The new Beit Hagalgalim (the House of Wheels) in Herzliya Pituah was supposed
to serve the rehabilitative needs of 120 disabled youngsters, neighbors declared,
“Over our dead bodies.” Yes, they believe in mainstreaming the disabled in the
community, but they prefer that the community be located elsewhere - as far
away as possible. According to these neighbors, the sight of disabled people is not
aesthetic; it hurts their quality of life, and lowers their real estate value. And who
is leading this campaign? The chairman of the Herzliya branch of the Shinui
Party, who explains, “I am one of the moderate people in the neighborhood.”

In the winter of 1977, when he was 6 months old, Ohad Yifrah became ill. He had a
high fever, and then developed meningitis. He was treated at Barzilai Hospital in
Ashkelon, but his situation worsened, and he slipped into a coma which lasted for a
week. When he came to, he was paralyzed in both legs and the right arm, and had
difficulty speaking.

“The doctors told me that he would amount to nothing,” recalls his mother, Leah.
“They said that there is a convent somewhere that takes children like him. I told them
that, as long as I live, this child will stay with me, and I don‟t regret the decision for
one moment. He returned everything that I invested in him one hundred times. I have
four successful children: Three healthy children and Ohad. I love him the best.”

Now age 28, Ohad Yifrah works as a program debugger in the ICQ high-tech
company. He plays basketball on the Ilan Ramat Gan disabled team, “A few weeks
ago we won the final playoff in an international tournament. We beat South Africa
65:50.” He has had relationships with women who are disabled and with women who
are not. He projects self-confidence, maturity, and independence to an extent that
would make many of his unchallenged age-mates proud. He owes these achievements,
in no small part, to the years that he spent as a student and counselor at Beit

Beit Hagalgalim is the name used by the Shai Society for a project devoted to
rehabilitation and support of disabled children. The non-profit organization offers a
unique treatment center for children, mainly disabled by cerebral palsy and muscular
dystrophy. The center was founded as a revolutionary alternative to prevailing
treatment by the late Miriam Schwartz, a teacher and advisor at the Tekuma School
for the disabled. The program was designed to provide much-needed respite to family
members caring for a disabled individual, and to provide an alternative to the
antiquated modes of treatment which typified disabled care in Israel during that

Mainstreaming was the center‟s guiding philosophy. Beit Hagalgalim strove to
integrate its members into society through activity related to sports, creative pursuits,
and nature. It sounds banal now, but no one knew what Schwartz was talking about, at
the time.

The association began its activities by the sea, where disabled individuals and their
escorts were the guests in rented rooms in Beit Yannai and Michmoret. The fact that
the facility had no permanent home caused it to be named “Beit Hagalgalim”,
literally, house of wheels, to this day. A year later, the non-profit organization rented
a home in Herzliya Pituah. They wanted a quiet residential neighborhood, near the
sea, with tree-lined streets and a community to absorb them. In other words, they
wanted a place that would feel like home.

Despite its condescending image, Herzliya Pituah embraced and adopted Beit
Hagalgalim. Neighbors have been visiting the center for years with cakes and crates
full of produce for Shabbat. Young people in the neighborhood have served as
volunteers on the staff, and shared activities with their disabled peers. Neighborhood
residents also donate funds to the organization, which relies on contributions for 90
percent of its NIS 5 million annual budget. Beit Hagalgalim‟s disabled youngsters
participate in the local community center and the two Ashkenazi and Sephardi
neighborhood synagogues fight over the privelege of hosting the pupils and their
religious counselors at Shabbat prayer services.

It seems that this wonderful friendship would have continued forever, had the
organization‟s management not filed a request for an empty lot with the Herzliya
municipality, in order to build a permanent facility in the neighborhood. The current
230 meter home became to small to contain the center‟s burgeoning activity.
Moreover, the home‟s crumbling physical state demands an immediate renovation,
which would overtax the organization‟s budget. The end of the lease is in sight, and,
after 20 years, the organization‟s personnel feel that they are no longer fleeting guests
in the neighborhood. They believe that the time has come to build a permanent facility
which would address the children‟s special needs.

The Herzliya municipality agreed - as did the planning committee, led by Mayor Yael
German, an avid supporter of the project. “Herzliya should be proud to host an
institution of this calibre,” she declared, while offering the organization three lots set
aside for public use. The dunam and a half lot which was chosen, in a southern
Herzliya Pituah neighborhood, is located near the city‟s industrial zone. The plan
proceeded until the High Court made a decision, in 2001, pertaining to an appeal
brought by residents protesting the allocation of land to a religious non-profit
organization near their homes (the Blumenthal appeal). That decision maintained that
the Interior Ministry must publicize detailed protocol regarding the allocation of land
to public projects. Beit Hagalgalim was forced to issue a new request, that adhered to
the strict language of the Interior Ministry protocol, including a public announcement
in the press. The press announcement provoked neighbors in homes adjoining the lot,
and residents of western Herzliya, who presented a laundry list of objections to the
project. The planning committee, with new membership ordered by the Interior
Ministry, in a move that is also waiting for the results of a pending High Court appeal,
is now waiting to make a final decision.

Reading the objections of neighbors to the allocation of the lot and, to a much greater
extent, hearing what they have to say is an exhaustive lesson in the meaning of the
American acronym, “NIMBY,” standing for “Not in my backyard.” Most of the
houses that adjoin the lot are defended by high walls. Nannies and senior care
providers, of foreign extraction, walk the streets, adding to the neighborhood‟s
resemblance to a wealthy suburb in Bangkok or Manila. It is doubtful that a
wheelchair user would be able to reach the highly-placed intercoms imbedded in the
walls that surround these homes in order to disturb the peace of the residents within.
Yet, these neighbors insist that the building of Beit Hagalgalim near their homes will
lay waste to these idyllic surroundings.

Tzvi Rabiah, whose property is flanked by a rear wall adjoining the proposed lot, says,
“Beit Hagagalim will be here over our dead bodies. Why put it in a residential
neighborhood? They can build a synagogue, but not Beit Hagalgalim. Or a
kindergarten. They can expropriate part of the industrial zone and give them a site
there. Here, they‟ll lower the property value. My cousin is a wheelchair-bound
disabled veteran of the IDF and the Defense Ministry gave him a villa in the
neighborhood. I would object to him coming here as well. I don‟t want to get to know
them - not next to me. Not in a residential neighborhood. They should stay where they

And if your cousin invites 20 friends in wheelchairs over every day, could anyone
object? That is his right.

“Get out of here. You are insolent. I don‟t want to talk to you any more.”

Neighbor Vivian Schneider also cites a threat to quality of life as a reason for her
objections, “They promised us to place a public park here. They put a lot of
commercial and high-tech venues in this area and the value of the homes is
decreasing. As far as I am concerned, they can leave the dunes, but they should not
build the project here. Just imagine. It will be noisy, and there will be lots of traffic. If
I sit in my garden, I will hear all the noise. There are more appropriate places with
more available land. They should go to places where there is open land.”

Yes. But if everyone objects, they will not be able to build anywhere.

“That‟s true. I understand. But why is it OK for us and not for them. This is inside our
homes. We barely have parking. We paid so much money. We wanted peace and
quiet. I don‟t want someone who suddenly has an idea of creating a project to bother
me. They shouldn‟t ruin my life.”
Lili Dayan, whose home is located at the end of the street where the new center is
supposed to be built, is not concerned about decreasing property values. Her
objections are more original than those of her aforementioned neighbors, “People who
come here to live are looking for peace and quiet. It breaks my heart to see children in
wheelchairs. I don‟t want to see them next to my home. I know that sounds
egotistical, but it is the best thing for both sides. This is something unaesthetic, and
people will stare at them. It would be better if they were given a place in the industrial
zone. A more isolated place, for the benefit sides. I am a doctor and I know that this is
not pleasant. I have nothing against them, but it is better if they are away from a
residential area.”

Mainstreaming is the current approach to treatment.

“Nonsense. I don‟t believe that. They will appear more pathetic in a residential
neighborhood. People will look at them adversely and they won‟t feel comfortable. I
wouldn‟t want to see them. If I don‟t see them, that doesn‟t mean that they don‟t exist,
but if you see them, you are constantly sad all day, and that is a problem.”

It is a problem to be in a wheelchair throughout one’s life.

“Yes, I‟m not talking about lowered value. Most of those who buy [property] here
usually do not sell. I‟m talking more about the human aspect. I don‟t think it would be
good for them here, either. It‟s tragic to see sad things. It breaks your heart.”

The neighborhood protest has mainly been led by Shmuel Zamir, owner of a company
for computerization of medical clinics and chairman of the Herzliya branch of the
Shinui party, whose home adjoins the proposed lot. Several neighbors say that he
initiated the joint objection presented to the municipality. In December, 2003, Zamir
invited Beit Hagalgalim Chairman and attorney Aviezer Greuer to a meeting with
planning committee member Elisha Tal in the latter‟s studio. According to Greuer and
Tal, a threatening tone pervaded the meeting, which was characterized by statements
implying that, “I have enough time and money to make the project fail,” and “I do not
want to see disabled people.” Moreover, he demanded that the project be built at least
10 meters away from his home, and that a wall or high living fence divide his
property from Beit Hagalgalim.
It is not easy to attain an interview with Zamir. The following conversation took place
after many fruitless telephone calls:

Individuals involved with Beit Hagalgalim say that you object to the project and that
you said that you do not want to see disabled people.

“I deny that. I have nothing against the disabled.”

The question was not whether or not you have anything against the disabled, but
whether or not you said that you do not want to see disabled people.

“I have nothing against the disabled.”

But that was not the question.

“It was a long time ago – almost a year ago. I remember the meeting as being
amicable and it ended with the shaking of hands. They also mentioned that this was a
religious non-profit organization and that half of the youngsters treated must come
from religious homes.”

Is your objection related to the fact that you are chairman of the local Shinui branch?

“It is true that I am chairman of the branch, but I will undoubtedly be forced to resign
when the article is published. Personally, I am one of the moderate people in the
neighborhood. It is not politcally correct to argue with the disabled, so I don‟t argue
with them. It is simply unfair to give a lot valued at NIS 9 million to an outside
element. We have our own needs, and we come first.”

Did you exert pressure on the planning committee?

“Absolutely not.”

But one member of the committee said that you spoke to him about the matter.
“Oh, you may have spoken to Reuven Faran, and I asked him not to resign from the
committee because of a conflict of interests. He finally did resign, but he supports the
allocation in any case, so it doesn‟t really matter.”

Reuven Faran is a member of the opposition in the City Council and a past-member of
the planning committee. He confirms that Zamir contacted him to request that he
object to the allocation of land to Beit Hagalgalim, and that he withdraw his
resignation. He ultimately resigned from the committee because of his working
relations with a member of the Beit Hagalgalim organization, a matter which thus
became irrelevant.

The objection of neighbors to the use of the lot is derived from fear, ignorance, and
prejudice that they are not afraid to reveal. The management of Beit Hagalgalim, in a
belief that it is wise to develop good relations with their future neighbors, tried to
invite them to a meeting in order to understand their fears and attempt to address
them. But the neighbors refused.

The objections of the Western Herzliya residential organization is even less
understandable. That committee is led by Attorney Raphaela Harlap, and the new
location would mean that Beit Hagalgalim is furthur from her home. Unlike the
neighbors near the proposed lot, the Western Herzliya organization is politically
savvy and has more experience in maintaining relations with the media. They are
particularly careful to avoid past allegations that this is a war perpetrated by the
wealthy against the disabled. This allegation hurt those who supported the plan and
taught the objectors an important lesson regarding public relations. Harlap, who has
been interviewed at least twice on television and on radio understood that the only
effective strategy to take with the media was a lowered profile. She refused to be
interviewed for this article.

She presented a written document, on behalf of the committee, but refused to respond
to questions in a written format. In summation, the document states that the
committee has no objection to Beit Hagalgalim‟s continued activity in rented homes,
but objects to the allocation of land because of, “The rights of residents pertaining to
land expropriated from them for public use come before the rights of foreign elements
who do not serve the residents in the area.” The document claimed that Beit
Hagalgalim‟s incitement of the media against neighborhood residents led to
impropriety in the process of allocating land.

This document, like a letter distributed to neighborhood residents by the committee
and statements made by Harlap to the press, includes no lack of erroneous
information. The claim that Beit Hagalgalim requested the land, “To build the
administrative offices of the non-profit organization,” is far from true. The plan
presented to the Herzliya municipality calls for only 10 percent (about 57 meters on
the second floor) of the 1,000 meter building to be devoted to office space. The vast
majority of the space is allocated to the activity of the children. The increased office
space that Beit Hagalgalim requires may be explained by the fact that General
Manager Avrami Torem is assisted in his work by graduates of the program in
wheelchairs, who require more seating room and wide aisles between seats to
accommodate wheelchair access.

In an effort to make their claims line up with the Blumenthal decision in the High
Court and to prove that Beit Hagalgalim does not serve the residents in the area, the
document stated that “Only three [of the members in the center]are residents of
Herzliya.” This claim is inaccurate, in addition to being petty: At least eight
youngsters from Herzliya are members of the local branch, and city residents are
given preference over others in the process of acceptance for treatment.

The document also ignores another contribution that Beit Hagalgalim makes to the
community: Beit Hagalgalim counselors, past and present, have come from the
neighborhood and the city, and they cite their experience at Beit Hagalgalim as a
highly significant event in their lives.

Beyond the pettiness and inaccuracy, these claims are based on faulty logic.
According to this logic, the rehabilitation center at Beit Levinstein would limit its
treatment to Ra‟anana residents; the Tel Aviv Museum would only open its doors to
residents of Tel Aviv; and shelters for battered women, which make every effort to
distance women from their homes, would simply not exist. Moreover, due to the low
incidence rate of cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy in the general population,
only a city the size of Tokyo or Cairo would be able to open a facility like Beit
Hagalgalim. In order to circumvent this demand, every city would have to build its
own Beit Hagalgalim to serve its own residents, and a national facility would have to
be erected in an isolated location, with low property values and a minimal population
unversed in the fine points of the Blumenthal decision.

An effort to acquire a meaningful response from the 22 members of the neighborhood
committee yielded statements like, “Some of my best friends are disabled,” and “The
land is worth $2 million. It was expropriated from the residents of the neighborhood,
and the lot must serve them.”

The neighborhood committee supports Beit Hagalgalim, in opposition to neighbors
whose homes adjoin the lot. Waving the banner of just government, a large number of
neighborhood residents do not understand why the petty fine points of legislative
orders take precedence over human kindness. These residents support allocation of the
lot, and several hundred of them even signed a petition calling to the municipality to
do so. Ofra Isaacson says, “Beit Hagalgalim is a heart-warming endeavor which our
children participated in as well. It is a great privelege to participate in such a project.
It represents the beautiful side of Israel, in its most profound definition. You can‟t
measure everything in monetary terms, and if at all, this place should raise the
property values of homes in the neighborhood. I am so ashamed of the opponents, and
I simply don‟t understand them. Some people only see what happens behind their own
doors and take no interest in others. If they cease to be here, it will represent a major
loss to the area and a blow to the human value of the neighborhood.”

Dina Meir, a neighbor and special education activist says, “There is nothing greater
then knowing how to accept what is different. It is privelege – not charity. We have to
stop being elitist. They give us more than we give them, and they raise the ethical
value of the neighborhood. We and our children must learn from them - from their
determination. I wasn‟t asked for my opinion on the allotment and I don‟t understand
how the decision was made. In my opinion, the opponents represent a small segment
of the public.”
Even the staunchest opponents of the allotment, including Attorney Harlap, do not
minimize the value of the activity at Beit Hagalgalim. In one interview, Harlap even
expressed pride that the center was founded by a neighborhood resident. (This is
another technical error: Miriam Schwartz, who founded Beit Hagalgalim, lived in
Ramat Gan until the day of her death in 1983.)

Beit Hagalgalim is, indeed, a strange bird in the Israeli treatment and rehabilitation
landscape. It does not fit any accepted definition, and that may be precisely the reason
that the center makes impressive achievements in exactly those arenas where other
institutions and official treatment models have failed to provide solutions. The
youngsters join the center, which is not a day care facility, at age 10-12, and continue
to attend until they complete their special education at age 21. Activities are organized
in groups with an equal number of members and counselors, and every group comes
to the home for a weekend overnight, social functions, and trips in the area about once
a month. During the week, the center offers ongoing special interest activities like
cooking, dance, and independence training, in which members learn to use public
transportation, go shopping in a supermarket, and fulfill other goals, which are not at
all trivial to those born to a life of dependence.

The high point of activity are the center‟s summer day camps in natural surroundings,
which include physical challenges like snappling and kayaking. Amir Fisher, the
counselor of the oldest group, explains, “The fact that the counselors do not have a
fixated professional treatment background is actually an advantage. We roll around on
the grass with them, have friendly fist fights with them, and go into the cold water of
the ocean. These things aren‟t written in any book. We simply relate to them as
regular kids – not as cripples who can barely move the joystick on their wheelchairs.
There was an incident in which a kid got stuck on top of a roller coaster, and a
graduate of an IDF commando unit climbed up, tied the kid to himself, and brought
him down. These guys have amazing spunk.”

The center does not abandon its graduates when they become adults. Chairman
Aviezer Greuer developed a placement program to assist in the integration of center
graduates and other disabled individuals in places of employment. Disabled
individuals sit on the steering committee of the center, and at least one female,
wheelchair-assisted graduate is a group leader. Ex-counselors have established new
branches of Beit Hagalgalim in Jerusalem, Kibbutz Urim, in the South, and in Bustan
Hagalil, near Acre.

This entire operation, serving 400 youngsters, is directed from the main branch, in
two spartan shacks, in the center of Herzliya. Bedouin and Arab youth participate
alongside Jewish youth, some of whom are religious. The non-profit organization tries
to maintain an equal number of religious and non-religious counselors, and it is not
uncommon to see a graduate of the leftist Hashomer Hatzair youth movement serving
as a counselor with a right-wing settler from Samaria. The Board of Directors of the
organization also reflects this rare, idyllic pluralism: Author and leftist activist David
Grossman serves with Kotel Yeshiva head, Rabbi Motti Alon, and Reserves Major
General Yaakov Amidror.

Counselors stress that their voluntary participation is not an act of giving, but the
opposite – it enriches their lives. Efrat Karmazin, 32, is a drama student at Tel Aviv
University who directs the older group, “I have a disabled brother who is in my group
here and a sister who was a volunteer. When they were looking for day camp
volunteers, I came with my boyfriend , and it was like a week in a perfect world. I
study 16 hours a day, but time is not a significant factor here. I don‟t feel that I accept
them – they accept me. I am completely uncertain that I or any other „healthy‟ person
is less or more disabled than these guys sitting in wheelchairs.”

Fisher, 29, and an attorney by profession, completed his law studies and volunteered
at the center while posted by the Air Force in Tel Aviv. “There were occasions when I
was called to appear for urgent duty while I was at Beit Hagalgalim,” he relates. “At
first, you might come here to help, but everyone that continues quickly understands
that he is here for himself. These children have a basic innocence and sharp senses.
You can‟t fool them. They don‟t have the social masks that we are all so accustomed
to, and they will tell you, right to your face, if they love you or are mad at you. This is
humanity without external shells. Some thing that we are not familiar with anywhere
“This place always had an atmosphere like that of a thatched hut in the Sinai. That‟s
its charm,” says Elisha Tal, an industrial designer, and volunteer in the past, who now
sits on the steering committee.

Hadar Kimchi, 52, paralyzed at birth in all four limbs by cerebral palsy, who controls
her wheelchair with limitted movement in her left arm, came to Beit Hagalgalim at
age 21. “This is my second home,” she says. “If it were not for this place, I would
never leave home.” She depends on National Insurance benefits for most of her
livelihood, supplemented by meager earnings as a translator in court, mainly at the
trials of foreign workers from Romania, the Phillipines, England, and Russia. She
learned all of these languages from caretakers who assisted her throughout her life.

Activity reaches a frenzied peak at the weekly Shabbat dinner on Friday nights. The
meal, served under a large pergola in the center‟s courtyard, begins with the Kiddush
blessing of the wine. Even the most avid observers of the injunction to rise to one‟s
feet for the Kiddush have a hard time persuading this crowd to join them, as most
diners arrive in wheelchairs. The food would not receive any stars in any guidebook,
and those who insist on an aesthetic ambience will not find their place here. Eating
with paralyzed facial features involves dribbling and spreading food everywhere, but
the fact that this may not be a pleasant sight for some is no reason to go hungry. At
Beit Hagalgalim, events like food dripping from the corner of one‟s mouth, and cups
of liquid spilled by unstable hands are not the catastrophes that they would be in the
regular world – they are matters of course. The food is wiped away, and the meal
continues. In order to maintain the home-like atmosphere, disposable utensils are
strictly avoided, although frequently broken glasses do little to promote a balanced

One visit to Beit Hagalgalim is enough to understand that the center is defended by a
type of armor which defies all cliches. It is not that there is no sadness, suffering, or
pain, but complaints and crying here erupt from a place of joy, and positive energy.
Apparently, limitless love, openness, and acceptance of every man as an equal really
comprise a magic remedy for those who are afflicted and for those who are healthy. It
is impossible to enter Beit Hagalgalim and to leave as the same person. It is
unfortunate that there are those who live beside the future lot who are so afraid of this
magic remedy for fear.

Contributions to Beit Hagalgalim may be sent to Account Number: 364711 at
Bank Mizrahi, Branch 164, Lillienblum St., Tel Aviv or Beit Hagalgalim, 4
Keren Hayesod St., Herzliya Pituah, 36664. Telephone: 09-9557999,

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