No decision about me, without me

No decision about me, without me

This core statement presented by Janet Leech, the Head of Learning

Disabilities at Enfield Council in London at the conclusion of JCC

Global’s Amitim– Fellows Special Needs Seminar captures the

essence of a groundbreaking experience. Executive directors, senior

staff members and volunteers from the Mazal Tov JCC in

Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, the Shore Front Y in New York and the Eilat

Community Centers in Israel gathered in London to learn about the

services and programs provided for individuals with special needs as

part of their effort to make their own JCCs and JCCs around the

world more inclusive. Janet and the many other individuals that they

met brought home a more comprehensive approach to inclusion, a

real effort to listen to the people who receive service and ways of

realizing the great potential of people with disabilities.

It all started a year ago when the leaders of 25 JCCs from 11 countries

gathered in Budapest to launch the JCC Global Amitim– Fellows

Global Leadership Network. In a brain storming session, when they

had to choose partners and projects for future collaboration, Sue

Fox, the Executive Director of the Shorefront YM-YWHA JCC in New

York came up with a suggestion for a project. She called it:

Expanding our Beautiful Jewish Community. This was a captivating

idea for both Eilat and Zaporizhzhia and the global group was


As part of their initial mutual learning process, they found out that

the way individuals with special needs are served in their

communities is very different. Due to their particular culture,

economy, politics and judicial system, the menu and focus of service

varies. But they did find common ground. They were all looking to

better train and manage the work of volunteers who work with

individuals with special needs.

From the start, the group was fortunate to have Neil Taylor, Director

of Community Services for Jewish Care- London’s largest health and

social care organization- as a mentor. Neil has been a board member

of JCC Global for many years and served as a distinguished mentor

to JCCs in Ukraine. Neil offered the group to come to London and

study the London model on “neutral grounds.” Another collaborator

was Mariano Schlimovich, the Director of the ECJC and EAJCC who

agreed to implement and facilities the seminar. Eventually turning the

twelve participants into a close knit community.

The group visited several institutions and met directors, lay leaders

and staff members of Jewish Care, Norwood, Kisharon and Enfield

Council. Each evening, the group members spent several hours

reflecting on the visits and trying to integrate these experiences into

their project planning process. It was their opportunity to engage the

professionals and volunteers from the three communities in a face to

face encounter. “The visits served as a platform of discovery and an

opportunity to focus conversations and delve deeper into the areas

of connection between their communities. It was an opportunity to

learn how the community in Zaporizhzhia deals with the current war

and on top of that continues to serve the special needs community in

a community with very sparse resources and without any support

from local or national government” reflected Sue Fox.

At the concluding session, Suzanna Levitt from New York said she

was blown away by the programs that they visited. She was

impressed by the enthusiasm and joy of the people who work in

these institutions and was bringing back to her community this sense

of purpose. For Frida Ben Yosef from Eilat it was the first time to

participate in a professional development seminar outside of Israel.

As the professional overseeing social welfare for the city of Eilat and

as an active board member of the Community Centers of Eilat, the

impact of combining the study of special needs- theory and

practices- with the discussions on Jewish Peoplehood and Jewish

identity was very powerful.

For the participants from Ukraine the study experience in London

could not be separated from the war that is raging in Ukraine and

their enormous challenge to continue functioning amid crisis and

uncertainty. Inessa Nossenko, the Executive Director of the Mazal

Tov JCC in Zaporizhzhia said that it was very important for her and

her colleagues to attend this seminar as they felt that they were not

alone. They felt that they were part of a big Jewish people. “In our

special situation in Ukraine” Inessa said “life is not easy. I take from all

of you the experiences that we shared and I’m going to bring it back

to my community. You all gave me an opportunity to learn useful

things that will help the future of my community. The future is in our

hands. We will make things happen.”

The visits were so impactful that the group decided to enlarge the

scope of their work. They decided to find ways to engage more

volunteers with greater skills to serve more people with special

needs. Iris Cohen, the Executive Director of the Eilat Community

Centers is going to take it a step further and initiate a city wide

project that will heavily involve the local municipality and local

institutions. The group foresees building models of best practices

that are replicable and will eventually be shared and adapted by

additional JCCs. JCC Global that initiated the project and is

supervising it, is going to provide the group members an opportunity

to show case their achievements at the upcoming 9th World

Conference of JCCs, this coming November in Jerusalem.

Watching the process of study, debate, disagreement and

reconciliation among the three communities, one could conclude that

the principal of “No decision about me, without me” is not only

applicable to serving individuals with special needs but is also an

excellent guideline for building and sustaining global partnerships.


Funding for this program comes from JCC Global and from a grant from UJA

Federation of New York. JDC and participating JCCs are also supporting the


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Smadar Bar-Akiva

About Smadar Bar-Akiva

Executive Director of JCC Global

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