Later today, Shibolim staff and students will make their way to Jerusalem. There, they’ll be hosted by none other than the president to celebrate the end of the program’s pilot phase. First, though, here are a few of Shibolim’s greatest achievements.
Shibolim was launched in 2016 as a partnership of JDC–Israel, the Joint Council of Mechinot, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Settlement Affairs, the National Insurance Institute, the Ruderman Family Foundation, and UJA–Federation of New York. Since then, Shibolim has been administered by the Joint Council. The program’s goal is to enable young people with disabilities to attend mechina. The mission was unprecedented, and program staff had a long journey ahead of them. Yet just five years later, the changes on the ground are unmissable. Eleven mechina locations have been made accessible with assistance from the National Insurance Institute’s Fund for Development of Services for People with Disabilities. No fewer than 39 mechinot have participated in Shibolim. There are 190 Shibolim alumni, the vast majority of whom have served in the IDF, and Shibolim has given hundreds of other mechina students an inclusive and equitable mechina experience.
No wonder the Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Health decided to fully fund Shibolim after the end of the pilot phase. The Joint Council will keep administering the program. However, now it will have the complete financial backing of the government. To mark the occasion, we’re revisiting Shibolim’s most memorable moments and its resounding impact on mechina staff and Israeli society.
Recognition of mechina students with disabilities
Did we mention that it was a long journey? Not long ago, many mechina students with disabilities weren’t eligible for government funding. They could volunteer in the army, but the law didn’t permit allocating any money for them, unlike students whose service was deferred. Legislation was passed in July 2018 to correct the problem. Now, young people with disabilities who are slated to volunteer in security roles are eligible for funding. Minister Omer Barlev, who proposed the legislation when he was a Knesset member, commented at the time: “On an ethical level, we’ve gained in two ways. First, by doing this the state recognizes the importance of mainstreaming young people with disabilities and providing equal opportunity. Second, the amendment is significant for other mechina students, who will get to know the other and engage in group living with mutual responsibility.”
“On an ethical level, we’ve gained in two ways. First, by doing this the state recognizes the importance of mainstreaming young people with disabilities and providing equal opportunity. Second, the amendment is significant for other mechina students, who will get to know the other and engage in group living with mutual responsibility”—Minister Omer Barlev
Shibolink (Hebrew), a collaboration of Shibolim and the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Link 20 initiative,
was created so young people with and without disabilities could come together, discuss issues, learn,
and lead efforts to raise public awareness of the mainstreaming of individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.Every year, a group of 15 to 17 students from various mechinot has been chosen to learn how to drive social change in the digital era. Their campaigns have been inspirational, and the results are impressive. The first year, Shibolink students devised the Right to Serve with Meaning campaign (Hebrew), which led to a meeting with the commander of the IDF’s Human Resources Directorate. Members of the second Shibolink class advocated for accessibility modification of hiking trails (Hebrew), and their campaign was featured on Channel 13’s HaOlam HaBoker. In the program’s third year, Shibolink participants were motivated by personal experience to join a campaign to make mass transit accessible.
Shibolim’s campaigns started a conversation in Israel and created real change in society, from the mechinot outward.
The Shibolim Action Group
In 2019, the Mechina at Hannaton’s activism team led the creation of the Shibolim Action Group, which included mechina students from all over the country. The action group advocated for individuals with disabilities to have equal rights to attend mechina. Participants raised awareness at the mechinot and around the country, hatched a plan, and laid the groundwork for the years to come.
The Shibolim Knowledge Center
The Shibolim Knowledge Center is a unique website created by Shibolim staff on the basis of guides that the Joint Council developed for mechina staff members. The website, which is divided according to different activities and disabilities, offers information about both physical accessibility, such as of hikes, and social aspects of mainstreaming at the mechinot. Shibolim staff provide the mechinot with close personal guidance, and the Shibolim Knowledge Center doesn’t change that. Instead, it’s an instantly available resource for learning about the practicalities of different disabilities and disability modifications.
The website also is helpful to mechinot that aren’t yet participating in Shibolim, but do work with individuals who are high-functioning or have mental disorders covered by the Shibolim Knowledge Center.
The website, which is divided according to different activities and disabilities, offers information about both physical accessibility, such as of hikes, and social aspects of mainstreaming at the mechinot.
“Significant attitudinal change”: Mechina staff talk about Shibolim
Shibolim’s success can be summed up in numbers. However, even those impressive figures can’t do justice to its human impact: on staff at various mechinot who made changes and modifications to create a more equal student body, on students who got to belong to a group with room for people of every kind, and of course on Shibolim participants’ families and the participants themselves, who had the same chance as other young Israelis to go to mechina.
In honor of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we talked with Riki Marsha, the head of Mechinat Aderet’s Kfar Silver branch; Rabbi Yonatan Malet, the education director at Mechinat Chemdat; and Efraim Back, director of the Beit Guvrin branch of Mechinat Lachish. Each talked about the conceptual change taking hold at the mechinot thanks to Shibolim—and that conceptual change is trickling out and making a mark throughout society.
“Shibolim taught me about the world of people with disabilities,” said Efraim Back: “how much strength they need and have, how much society—including me—looks straight through them and isn’t conscious of all their needs or options, how much a little awareness and mindfulness can help and make things easier.”
“Shibolim taught me to be attentive, patient, and most of all to look at the student’s world through his eyes. The ability to take the back seat to the student’s nature and needs is the path on which education and growth take place”—Rabbi Yonatan Malet, education director of Mechinat Chemdat
Shibolim makes it possible for its participants to attend mechina like anyone else, regardless of disability. In this way, the program helps make society more equitable and inclusive. At the same time, Shibolim puts up a mirror in front of each and every mechina student. In Riki’s words, “Shibolim teaches me and my students a lot about ourselves. In a society where everyone is easily pigeonholed as ‘the other,’ there’s a major need for breaking down walls and closing the rifts by getting to know each other and living together. In day-to-day life, we’re strong with words, but smart after the fact. Shibolim puts us on the spot and challenges us not to look the other way—to be present, to be practical, and also, if there’s an issue, to understand that it can be solved if there’s a will and there’s flexibility.”
Shibolim was made available over the years at secular, traditional, and Orthodox mechinot, so all sorts of young people could attend. Rabbi Yonatan Malet told us that “Shibolim taught me to be attentive, patient, and most of all to look at the student’s world through his eyes. The ability to take the back seat to the student’s nature and needs is the path on which education and growth take place.”
Much has been accomplished. The achievements we’ve listed are a big deal, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The most important thing is Shibolim’s message: anyone can attend mechina, and anyone can make a difference. Young people with and without disabilities have the same power to push for change—at the mechinot, in the IDF, and in all parts of Israel and Israeli society. The end of the pilot phase is an opportunity to look back with pride. For the Shibolim staff, though, there’s never a lull in the action. They’re still working for young people with different levels of function to be included at the mechinot and everywhere else, and to change attitudes among students and staff at all mechinot. By doing so, they’re making a better future for Israeli society.