Click photo to download. Caption: Jay
Ruderman (left), president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, with Israeli Paralympic athlete Pascale Bercovitch on May 8 at ADVANCE:
The Ruderman Jewish Disabilities Funding Conference, which focused on inclusion of people with disabilities in Jewish communal life. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

By Maxine Dovere/

Pascale Bercovitch took a chair next to the podium at ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish
Disabilities Funding Conference, she lifted herself from a sleekly designed
wheelchair onto the same slightly uncomfortable chair on which each member of
her audience sat.

“I am who I wanted to be. I set out to be a champ,” said the Israeli Paralympic

More than 100 members of the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) gathered in New York
to attend the annual ADVANCE conference in early May. The conference brought
together funders from around the Jewish world passionate about the field of
special needs and disabilities, and discussions included inclusion of people
with disabilities in Jewish communal life. For three days, JFN members–prospective
funders–met with advocates and providers of services for people with
disabilities, and visited supported worksites.

“When the continuity
of our community is paramount, we need to find a way to be more inclusive of the
people with disabilities in our midst,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the
Ruderman Family Foundation, the conference’s sponsor. “At nearly 20 percent of
the Jewish community, they are a strategic asset and very much part of our
future and our long-term success as a people.”

According to a
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute study provided by JFN, approximately 1 million
people with disabilities of working age are living in Israel–including Bercovitch,
whose well-muscled body and attitude convey confidence. She is in a committed
relationship, a mother of two, a writer, and a sportswoman.

At 16, Bercovitch came to Israel as a volunteer on an army base near Ashkelon
through SAREL, a program similar to Taglit-Birthright. Her katzeen (supervising officer) was Alon Davidi (later head of the
Security Council of Sderot in Israel’s south). At the end of that volunteer
summer, she returned to France to complete high school, with plans to make
aliyah and join the Israel Defense Forces. At 17, running to catch a train to
her school, she fell. Both of her legs were severed at the mid-thighs.

When Davidi learned of the accident, he came to France. Bercovitch told his encouragement made her more
determined. “I decided to do it my way–to follow my dream to become an Israeli
and go to the IDF,” she said. “I so badly wanted to do it. You know what
happened? I did it!”

Bercovitch, who
continues to represent Israel at international Paralympic events, hardly
considers herself a woman with a disability.

“I don’t think legs
are a major thing in life,” she told
“It is our duty to do what we can do… There is no such thing as can’t: you
never know what you can do until you try.”

William Daroff, vice
president for public policy and director of the Washington Office of the Jewish
Federations of North America (JFNA), said the mission of the ADVANCE conference
was to “find ways to open Abraham’s tent.” Daroff is the Federation umbrella’s
go-to domestic policy expert, including when it comes to health and human
services. His portfolio includes …read more


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