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Kibbutz with a Cause

Binyamin Rose

Special-needs adults have found a haven on Kibbutz Kishor, a Western Galilee community built especially for their needs — and redefining “special needs” along the way

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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NEW DIRECTIONS Whether it’s working in the winery, tending to the goats and horses, or pitching hay, members credit the kibbutz with giving them skills and purpose (Photos: Lior Mizrachi, Kishorit Archives)

Roni Isakov, mashgiach at the Kishor winery, siphons wine from oak barrels into a pair of waiting glasses, drawing the season’s first samples. A warm, dry winter produced an early harvest, and Isakov is eager to taste the product of months of work.

You’ve got to be nimble to keep up with the wiry Isakov, whose hands are tinted from the rich purple color of fine red wine. As he hurries from the vat room to the barrel room, the heels of his knee-high white boots squeak with every step on the slick black slate floor.

Isakov stops to convey guidance to a valued assistant — one of the 171 adult employees with special needs who are members of the Kishor community — and who require extra supervision and forbearance. Some of the members live and/or work in the nearby city of Karmiel, while others choose to live in the kibbutz and work in the kibbutz’s own revenue-generating businesses.

“It’s not easy. Some of the work is very intensive, and I’ve had to train myself what I can say to them and what not to say,” says Isakov, adding that he first learned essential lessons in restraint on his previous job in a yeshivah kitchen. “I’ve learned to listen and communicate with sensitivity. I’ve learned to keep myself balanced. When I’m balanced, my workers stay in balance too.”

In the next room, Yair Una, director of the winery’s visitor center, lines up bottles on the wood countertop, in preparation for the imminent arrival of a group for a wine tasting. His right-hand man is another adult with special needs, Yaron, who watches over the small dishes of green olives that will serve as a garnish to the wines. “I’m here to help the visitors,” Yaron says. “To get them seated, to explain about the vineyard and just to be a good host.”

“He is the best,” Yair says in tribute to Yaron, who has learned every facet of the winery’s operations over the past six years. “He doesn’t have fine motor skills, but you ought to see him in the fields with a scythe in his hands. He doesn’t miss a stroke. And sometimes, after a tasting, we will leave late and the place is a mess. He’s here at six o’clock the next morning cleaning up. It would be hard to imagine the vineyard or winery without Yaron.”

The same could be said about all of the special-needs adults who staff the diversified enterprises at Kibbutz Kishor, nestled 500 meters (1,650 feet) above sea level in the upper Western Galilee. From Kishor’s highest geographic point, Acco and the Mediterranean coast are visible at a distance of 12 miles. The Lebanese border is just six miles away, as the crow flies. But Kishor’s highest spot of human compassion is how it has quietly yet diligently provided a home, meaningful employment, and 24/7 tender loving care to men and women with a range of emotional and cognitive impairments, such as Down syndrome, autism, and schizophrenia.

Some are orphans or were abandoned. Others come from foster homes or other residential care facilities. In many cases, their parents cared for them until early adulthood, and then decided they needed a long-term solution that could offer their sons and daughters employment, friendships, and lasting security.

 

By providing these adults a community built exclusively for their needs, Kishor has given them a dignity and confidence they’ve found nowhere else. The community is based on the fundamental principle that people with special needs are entitled to the human right of autonomy and self-determination. With support, the members make decisions for themselves regarding their medical care, living situations, and employment settings. For many members, it is the first time they have ever been given full control over their lives and the experience has profound positive impact on the therapeutic and rehabilitative process.

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