When the new state-of-the-art home for severely disabled adults was inaugurated in the center of Jerusalem in January 2018, director Kobi Vizel never imagined the changes he would be required to make practically overnight.
The multi-million-dollar, 1,900-square-meter complex, called “Beis Finger” was built and is operated by Colel Chabad, Israel’s longest running social services organization, with the support of Israel’s Social Services Ministry. Based on Colel Chabad’s unique Grabski Rehabilitation Center in Israel’s northern city of Migdal HaEmek, Beis Finger administrators expected a similar clientele with similar needs. However, they were surprised to receive a younger group of disabled individuals, with unforeseen requests, seeking to become residents of the new facility. This unanticipated challenge required major changes overnight.
“We were accustomed to the success of the Grabski Rehabilitation Center, whose residents range in age from 22-55,” told Vizel to Breaking Israel News. “The residents at Beis Finger are younger and have different needs.”
For example, Vizel explained that the Jerusalemites were fearful of participating in a program that seemed too “medical.” Recognizing their hesitation, Vizel instituted that all Beis Finger staff should no longer wear medical jackets but rather civilian clothing.
In addition, the clientele were turned off by the term “physiotherapy session,” as this was too clinical. The signs on the therapy room was quickly changed to “gym.” Now, patients go to “exercise” instead of “treatment.”
In addition, though the atmosphere in Beis Finger was always pleasant and clean, additional pictures and plants were placed around the building, making it feel more like a five-star hotel than a treatment facility.
Since several of the residents attend daycare outside of Beis Finger, the center’s schedule was altered to provide more activities in the evenings.
Both Grabski and Beis Finger are known for their advanced art therapy programs and their alternative communication room, in which those unable to speak can express themselves by sharing pictures, watching videos and playing computer games. Additionally, in the Physio-therapeutic Music Clinic, a state-of-the-art innovative system, residents can sit in front of highly receptive sensors, cameras and computerized systems and by moving any body part – even an eyelid – they create music.
Recognizing that many of the parents of the disabled participants need emotional support, Vizel organized group and individual psychological counseling for them. The support group meets once a week. Additional and private counseling is provided as needed.
“It is interesting to note that it was actually harder for parents to send their disabled children to Beis Finger than for their children to come,” noted Vizel. “Some of the disabled individuals never left their homes before, which caused an emotional struggle for their parents.”
Beis Finger gives severely disabled people an opportunity to board at the facility.
“For most parents, this is the first time that they are leaving their child overnight, without their own parental supervision,” said Vizel. “It can be very emotionally difficult on the parents, but the children love it, want to stay, and can’t wait to return after they go home for the Sabbath.”
Though it was expected that most residents of Beis Finger would be suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system causing loss of coordination, muscle control, fatigue, numbness, and vision problems, presently, most of the residents suffer from cerebral palsy. This malady, which often starts at birth, is caused by brain damage that manifests in stiff or weak muscles, loss of coordination, tremors, vision and swallowing challenges.
“All of our patrons have severe physical limitations and normal working brains,” continued Vizel. “And, they all want to have opportunities to live as independently and productively as possible.”
Vizel explained that many of Beis Finger’s recent clientele at came through a particular mother who heard about the impressive facility and came for a visit. Recognizing the outstanding opportunities the home would provide her disabled child, she burst out crying while on the tour, especially when seeing the advanced music room. When asked why she was crying, she explained that she had been searching for seven years for such a home for her disabled child and now she would tell all of her friends with disabled children to come to Beis Finger.
Not only does Beis Finger provide internal stimulation, but residents are also taken regularly to public events and even shopping. This gives them the chance to interact with the rest of the world, something that most of them have never had the chance to do.
Beis Finger personally evaluates each resident and creates an individualized program that maximizes their skills.
“We consistently find that our clients want to be as independent as possible,” noted Vizel. “They are very happy and proud to do things themselves. This builds confidence. Often, we discover skills that we didn’t know they had. Everyone becomes happier.”
Though Israel’s Social Services Ministry provides both Grabski Rehabilitation Center and Beis Finger with basic services, such as water, electricity, employees, medical care and social workers, their enrichment programs, including art therapy, horticulture, advanced music room, specialized communications programs, and their printing workshop where residents can make a supplemental income, are all maintained through donations to Colel Chabad.
“Through Beis Finger, we are not only learning for ourselves how to enrich the lives of severely disabled individuals, we are quickly becoming a ‘light unto the nations’ by sharing with others how to better the lives of those who need it most,” Vizel said with a smile.
To donate to Colel Chabad’s network of social welfare programs, please click here.