The social hall in a Petah Tikvah community center, just outside Tel Aviv, seemed more like a nightclub, what with a cool DJ, vibrating music, endless food and beverages, and spirited chatter, laughter and singing.
And on this one recent evening, no one here – adults of varying ages and each with a physical or developmental challenge – seemed wanting to be anywhere else.
“I am connected to the people here,” said Liora Bat-Am, 28, who traveled to the event from Haifa. “People here look at and value me for who I am.”
For her and hundreds of others affiliated with Inbar, an Israeli-based non-profit working to equip the physically or developmentally challenged with tools and capacities for boundless self-confidence, and to find significant relationships in their lives – meaning partners and spouses – attending this event was a way to express a wholeness that for many was once seemingly out-of-reach.
A common narrative thread is shared among each of them – lives of accomplishment measured any which way – serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, perhaps, or earning educational degrees, or rising in their fields, or merely getting up in the morning to face the day with optimism and hope.
Yet always with that hard reality lurking that for them, some basic human aspirations and needs like love and marriage and even families of their own weren’t so likely.
“All my life I was taught to see myself as equal to everyone else,” said Hadera resident Hila Nouri, 32, who herself has physical challenges. “I did things that everyone else did – I was in the Army and I finished a master’s degree. But I always thought that I could not have a partner, that I could not be loved. This is very hard to accept.”
Banishing that mindset is not easy, but is the challenge, and Inbar’s very reason for being.
“Some within our community have never had a date in their entire lives,” said Shoshi Margolin, Inbar’s Executive Director. “They may be successful in other areas, but at a time and at an age when others are finding significant, loving relationships, they simply are not in the game. And that is what we are changing, putting them in that game.”
The organization got its start in 2009 by Rabbi Shaul Inbar and close friend Shalomi Eldar. Inbar, born with Cerebral palsy, often spoke of his deep loneliness, and the pair began a network for people with disabilities to meet others through social events.
Eldar, a rabbi and now a software engineer, said dozens of people across the spectrum of challenges attended that first event, in someone’s apartment, making him realize that the need among this population was deep and widespread. And in fact, Rabbi Inbar met his future wife at one of these first events, and they were married in 2012.
“I always thought he and others like him should lower their hopes,” said Eldar, who is now Inbar’s Chairman. “I don’t say that anymore.”
Since that first social event, the organization has grown and morphed into so much more than a mechanism for such meet-ups.
Today, Inbar is actively reaching and engaging about 250 individuals with physical and developmental issues, plus their families, with regular workshops equipping participants with social and communication skills, and building trust, self-confidence and self-esteem within the framework of a relationship. In May, for example, one workshop entitled “Song of the Heart” explored channels of expression to relay one’s inner thoughts and needs to others, including potential mates.
“Communication is the first thing that I want to help build,” said Margolin, who herself has physical challenges and became Inbar’s executive director early last year and has driven its recent growth in reach and scope.
“This is what enables all of us to know ourselves and those we are meeting, and to know and express what is right for us and what we want and need from anyone, including a potential significant other.”
Under Margolin’s leadership and vision, and with the support of The Good People Fund, Inbar’s work is going even deeper.
Social events are being enhanced, like a recent one in which professional stylists helped to make-up participants and boost their self-regard. And a mentoring program is being established to give participants ongoing and personalized support to complement more formalized programming and workshops.
Any observer of the Inbar experience is a witness to personal stories of change and transformation, courage, determination and hope.
Shira Lev of Yavne, 39, trains people on how to present themselves before audiences. But what she puts forth in professional settings was not internalized until she became part of the Inbar community as an individual with physical challenges.
“For myself, I didn’t think that I deserved anything,” she said. “I was coaching, but I didn’t know how to coach myself. But here I have learned to communicate with myself and to love myself and to realize that I can do everything that I want.
“I used to pretend that I am normal, and now I know that I am normal. And now I accept myself and feel like a whole person who can have everything, even love.”
By H. Glenn Rosenkrantz, for The Good People Fund