Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) and the Kulanu Academy recently announced a partnership in support of Kulanu Ba’aretz, a joint three month vocational-educational study program in Israel for young men and women with special needs ages 17-22.

Jewish National Fund is well known for its work benefitting individuals with special needs and disabilities. This new partnership with Kulanu on the academic front, allows it to expand its services and offer this special opportunity to 20 students annually for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic years.

The program, based in northern Israel at Kibbutz Shluchot in the foothills of the Gilboa Mountains in the Bet Shean Valley, is geared towards individuals who want to spend an unforgettable semester living, working, studying, growing and touring in Israel. The study program provides a unique opportunity for individuals with special needs to develop new skills, build self-esteem and independence, make new friends, and grow in a physically and emotionally safe environment. Students are engaged socially, emotionally, and physically, and often in ways they would not have at home while experiencing the spirit and culture of Israel.

The program is the brainchild of Kulanu’s executive director, Dr. Beth Raskin, who believes that every individual should be able to participate in an Israel program similar to their peers and siblings. “After 10 years of operating the Kulanu Ba’aretz program, we are excited to expand its growth via our partnership with Jewish National Fund,” said Raskin. “Our program provides the opportunity for participants to acquire skills and levels of independence that they could not normally attain in their home environments.”

Yossi Kahana, director of Jewish National Fund’s task force on disabilities, said, “This new partnership is part of JNF’s focus on improving the quality of life in Israel for all its citizens, ensuring that no member of Israeli society is left behind. Now people with disabilities have the opportunity to explore Israel and return home with a heightened sense of purpose, a deeper connection to the land and the people of Israel.”

David Berglas, a 2014 graduate of Kulanu Ba’aretz who found the experience life-changing remarked, “Being in Israel on my own helped me prove to myself that I can accomplish anything that I want to do. Living in Israel helped prepare me to become independent in many ways, a lot of which I have implemented since being home. And, the kibbutz environment opened the door for me to meet many new people as well as make long-term friends.”

Kulanu Ba’aretz was inaugurated in October 2007 and offers five components in its experiential curriculum:

1. Vocational—participants join as members of the kibbutz and engage in the following vocational placements: cooking, dining room, laundry, animal care in the children’s zoo, kibbutz store, agricultural work, and maintaining the landscaping throughout the kibbutz. Daily work schedules are individualized, providing flexibility to accommodate the touring component.

2. Course work—self advocacy and determination, social skills training, money management, functional reading, personal hygiene, and learning basic Hebrew.

3. Touring—a minimum of 20 days traveling throughout Israel. Jewish National Fund will make available partner sites including Special in Uniform, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, Hashomer HaChadash, and others. Interactive learning and coursework offered at vocational sites where possible.

4. Extracurricular activities—students participate in daily classes in the arts and crafts, sports, dance, cooking, and night activity programming. Kulanu Ba’aretz participants join with kibbutz high school students for activities and other social events, and participants enjoy Shabbat hospitality at the homes of kibbutz members.

5. Evening activities—a variety of sports, arts and crafts, horseback riding, woodworking, swimming, and other activities are offered.

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