Meet the woman behind Israel’s ‘communities of kindness’
[July 23, 2020: Christian Science Monitor]
When Adi Altschuler was a girl of 12, she volunteered to work with an organization for disabled youth. She was assigned to work with a 3-year-old with a bright smile and face sprinkled with freckles.
Kfir Kobi could neither walk nor speak, she says, but he understood everything going on around him. She describes their introduction as “love at first sight.”
Their meetings went from once weekly to several times a week. They were still close four years later when she took part in a leadership initiative for teenagers. Participants were asked to think of something that bothered them about society that they thought needed to be fixed.
Thinking of Kfir and his social isolation, unable to just walk out the door to see friends, she decided to scale the kind of relationship they had by forming a local group bringing children with disabilities together with more typically developing children and teenagers.
“Children with disabilities” is a phrase Ms. Altschuler prefers today not to use, because, she says, it connotes that they have disabilities while “typical children” do not. When really, she says, all people function with disabilities; it’s just that some are more visible than others.
The local group she formed soon grew into a youth movement across Israel with the help of Kfir’s mother, Claudia Kobi. It was named Krembo Wings, after a marshmallow-and-chocolate cookie popular with Israeli children.
Peer-led youth movements, where teenagers are given the responsibility of leading younger children, are a central part of Israeli culture. And participating in them is something of a rite of passage, but was previously unattainable for children with disabilities.
Krembo is the first and only youth movement of its kind in the world. In Israel 76 chapters serve 7,000 youth. In 2018 the United Nations recognized it for its leadership in inclusion and designated it as a “special adviser” for other countries looking to integrate special-needs youth into the broader social fold.
“For the past several years the youth who are involved have been leading a quiet social revolution to make a better, more open and more accepting society – one that says, ‘There is a place for everyone,’” says Sigal Dekel, the movement’s communication manager.... MORE