Josh Pruzansky has served the Jewish community in many ways.
“I’ve worked for 29 years in the nonprofit world, whether in advocacy, in a yeshiva, or as an OU state director,” Mr. Pruzansky said. And now he has a new job. He’s the development director for Aleh, an Israeli organization that serves children with complex disabilities.
His previous experience with Jewish nonprofits will prove invaluable, Mr. Pruzansky said. “I’m used to working with bureaucracies and trying to get funding. This is another challenge — an opportunity to work with an organization that few people have heard of, one of Israel’s best-kept secrets.”
The organization, which has international offices in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Holland, Canada, and Switzerland, “has changed the face of rehabilitative care in Israel,” he continued. “More than 750 children with complex disabilities receive state-of-the-art medical, educational, and rehabilitative care at the organization’s four facilities. In addition, Aleh provides thousands of outpatient treatments annually.
“Without Aleh, many of these children would be forced to spend their lives in hospitals, with no opportunities for rehabilitation, education, and the love and warmth of a home.”
Mr. Pruzansky is eager to bring that message to the United States and Canada. And he wants people to go and see for themselves what Aleh is doing. “I want people to go and volunteer and see how they can help the most vulnerable of children,” he said. “It’s amazing if you have a chance to see it. There’s a huge rehabilitation center in the Negev, and they recently received permission to build a town next to the village, allowing family and staff to live there. There’s also a huge facility in Jerusalem. The original building was in B’nai Brak, established in 1982. The fourth branch is in Gedera.”
Mr. Pruzansky said that while there are many special needs facilities in Israel, “there are none like Aleh. It’s not just a special ed school, but its operates 24/7. Kids live there when they can’t live at home because of severe disabilities. It has hospital wings, doctors, nurses, and medicine. But the kids are also able to go to special ed classes. They’re not losing out.
“There are so many people who work with these kids, not only staff but volunteers from all over the world.”
He cited, for example, high school graduates from Holland who come for a few months to work with Aleh children. “And this includes non-Jews as well,” he said. “People walk around with a smile. Some say we gain more from the kids than they get from us.”
He noted as well Aleh’s Tikkun Olam program, in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Education, which exposes tens of thousands of high school youth to people with disabilities and to the concepts and principles of accessibility. According to the organization’s website, “Since the launch of the project, there has been a noticeable spike in youth-led volunteerism and social activism initiatives from participating students from a diversity of spheres across the educational spectrum and from all areas of the country.”
“Society needs to understand that these kids deserve a life like other kids,” Mr. Pruzansky, who lives in Highland Park, said. “Israel is giving them a chance. The government finances part of it, but there are extras that Aleh needs, whether mechanized wheelchairs or more physical therapy than the government-authorized three hours a week. A child may need five hours a day in order not to get pneumonia.” Hence the need for a professional fundraiser.
Mr. Pruzansky believes that he brings not only experience but also passion to the new project. “I believe in it,” he said. But also, “I know a lot of people in all segments of the community.” He began his career as director of the Yeshiva of the Telshe Alumni in Riverdale, N.Y., and later was the executive director of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison. In 2005, Mr. Pruzansky co-founded Yeshiva Me’On HaTorah, now in Monsey, N.Y., and he still sits on its board. Most recently, as the New Jersey regional director of the OU’s Advocacy Center, he worked to secure funding for the area’s nonpublic schools. He also is a member of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, whose mission is to foster economic, scientific, educational, and cultural ties with Israel.
When he was in Israel recently, Mr. Pruzansky said, he went to see Aleh’s facilities “and was surprised by the culture.” Because the work is so intensive, he expected to find a stressful environment. “But it was happy,” he said. “Everyone walks around smiling. This touched me. It was beautiful. I hope to bring people there to see it firsthand and to teach people why it’s important for North Americans to support it.
“When you go through the doors of Aleh, religion and politics stay on the other side. It’s one big family. They also take in Arab children. No one is denied if the government places a child there. Our job is to take care of them.”