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Photo of a young girl at Beit Issie Shapiro

Beit Issie Shapiro: A Place for Joy – Shabbat Smile By Yoav Kraiem

At Beit Issie Shapiro, joy is present every day – this is our protest to a world that views disability through the lens of helplessness and suffering.

Beit Issie Shapiro, tucked away in Ra’anana, Israel, is a leadingpioneerofinnovative therapies and services toimprovethe lives of people with disabilities,impacting on almost half a million people annually in Israel and worldwide. Beit Issie Shapiro develops new therapies, changes attitudes in society, advocates for better legislation and shares knowledge internationally through its research and training.

It also pioneered Israel’s first early intervention center; the first hydrotherapy program for children with developmental and physical disabilities; the provision of specialized dental care; and unique Snoezelen multi-sensory environments for children with autism and other sensory issues. For many years its dedicated professional team has changed lives of people with disabilities while reaching out and supporting families in an atmosphere of warmth, love and respect.

We must “always be happy” Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught us.

But how can we be happy when people with disabilities experience exclusion, oppression and sometimes physical pain?

How can we be happy when people with disabilities encounter barriers of inaccessibility and intolerance?

At Beit Issie Shapiro, we have found an answer that works for us and our families. We are immersed in the joy of creating and designing technology that enables people to express their abilities; relieving pain through hydrotherapy and our Snoezelen multi-sensory rooms; and allowing people with disabilities to make their voices heard.

Israel songwriter, Naomi Shemer, wrote in her song “Al Rosh Simchati” (Upon My Joy’s Head):

My joy went out
To dance out in the open
Barefoot
Into the afternoon

This is exactly what Beit Issie Shapiro’s self-advocates and leadership groups do when they go out to the Israeli Knesset and make a difference.  Their advocacy has changed laws and regulations concerning their lives, and they do so with their heads held high, barefoot, and in the daylight. They make  their voices heard and choose to see their lives as filled with creativity, significance and joy. And, as the song continues, they wear on their heads a garland of flowers…with one or two thorns.

Please watch this two-minute video, to see how our self-advocates succeeded in changing law in Israel.

While evolving, the disability movement’s slogan has been “Nothing about us without us.”  I would prefer “Everything about us with us!”

This, for me, is true joy!

Shabbat Shalom from Israel’s Beit Issie Shapiro!


Yoav Kraiem smiling in front of shelves of books and a TV. Yoav is a wheelchair userYoav Kraiem serves as the Co-Director of the Community Development and Social Change Department at Beit Issie Shapiro, and is a member of the Senior Management Team. Yoav has been active for over 20 years in the fight for legislation to advance the rights of people with disabilities in Israel, including the Law for Equality (parallel to America’s ADA) and the Law for Inclusion. Since 2012, Yoav has served as the National Chairperson of the National Council for Psychiatric Rehabilitation in the Community at the Ministry of Health. Yoav lectures on Social Entrepreneurship at the David Yellin College of Education and the Ono Academic College, and has published articles in academic publications on Disability Studies. With a B.A. in Education and Sociology, Yoav has also won 14 gold medals in swimming and athletics competitions for youth with disabilities.

In our weekly Shabbat Smiles, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Shabbat Smile are those of the guest contributor.

The Shabbat Smile is curated and edited by Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact and Vivian Bass, RespectAbility Executive Committee Board Member.

Meet the Author

Debbie Fink
Debbie Fink

Debbie Fink is Director of Community Outreach and Impact for RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. She brings more than 15 years of diverse leadership experience in public health, education and arts programming to serve RespectAbility’s mission. Fink has a lifetime commitment to enabling people with disabilities to have a better future and is passionate about the constructive impact volunteers can make in the world. To reach her, email DebbieF@respectability.org.

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