“Blindness doesn’t have to be scary. With support and with courage, blind people can be completely integrated and independent in our society. People have a lot to offer even if they are vision impaired.”
So says Leo Brandstatter of Fair Lawn, the executive director of the American arm of the 117-year-old Jerusalem Institute for the Blind.
Formerly called the Jewish Institute for the Blind, the organization, headquartered in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, offers educational, vocational, rehabilitative, and health and social welfare resources for blind and visually impaired children and teenagers throughout Israel.
Now its reach is going to expand to include more programs for adults.
To that end, last Sunday the JIB’s leadership team landed in North America to begin a professional fact-finding tour of leading institutions for the blind.
The trip leader, JIB executive board member Dianne Bekritsky of Teaneck, is the sighted daughter of two blind parents. “My parents always taught me this is not a disability,” she said. “This is a challenge.”
Ms. Bekritsky and her husband, Stan, will host the delegation in their home for Shabbat. The community is invited to hear the JIB leaders speak about its innovative work on Saturday evening at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. (See box.)
“Hopefully, people who attend will get an awareness of this wonderful organization,” Ms. Bekritsky said. “JIB is well known in Israel but not as much in the United States. Right now, the JIB has loads of programs for the blind and visually impaired, some of whom also are disabled in other ways. The leaders are coming to see what else is out there that they can tap into, so that they can further help the blind to be more self-sufficient and productive in society.”
The JIB’s American group was established in the late 1980s to help contribute toward the JIB’s operating budget. The institute gets limited government funding, Mr. Brandstatter said. The fact-finding tour presented an opportunity to raise awareness for the organization; awareness-raising has been one of his main tasks since he became executive director in 2012.
Mr. Brandstatter, who plans to stay in Teaneck on Shabbat, along with other local board members, expressed his hope that the public forum will inform the Jewish community about the JIB.
“As the first center of its kind in the Jewish world, the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind is a home, school, social outlet, sports center, respite provider, confidence builder, and networking enabler for blind and visually challenged individuals throughout Israel,” he said. “While the JIB has a great deal of knowledge and expertise to share with its North American counterparts, there is also much that we can learn from them as part of our ongoing effort to further enhance the programs and services that we can offer.”
The delegation from Israel consists of JIB Director Shabtai (“Shabbi”) Deutsch, Deputy Director Rachel Skrobish, and Principal Menucha Trop.
“Shabbi took over the reins of the JIB last fall from our wonderful director-general, Chaim Reshelbach, who was there about 40 years,” Mr. Brandstatter said. “Until now, the focus has been overwhelmingly on children. Shabbi and his team want to expand the focus to adults, especially the growing population of blind seniors, wounded soldiers, terror victims and other vision-impaired and blind citizens around Israel.”
The visitors will go to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Ottawa; the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass.; the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass.; VISIONS Center on Blindness residential rehabilitation and training center in New Hempstead, N.Y., and its center for blind teens and adults in Manhattan; and Computer Sciences for the Blind in Brooklyn, which provides technology solutions for Jewish clients for everything from learning Hebrew Braille to workplace and school integration.
Mr. Brandstatter said the JIB will learn about new teaching methods and technology centers for visually impaired children, teens, and adults; vocational training for gainful employment in unsheltered settings; collaboration with other organizations for the blind around the globe; and outreach for the blind community at large.
The needs of people with visual impairment are more complex in the 21st century, he said, because medical advances have eliminated many preventable causes of blindness. “So the blindness we see in children today is usually from birth, and often comes with additional handicaps as well.”
Although Israel is at the forefront of addressing many different disabilities, he added, the professional exploratory tour will see how to improve and add to what is offered.
“The world is a big place, but the issues facing people who are blind or partially sighted bring them together into a small community,” said Diane Bergeron, vice president of engagement and international affairs for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
“It is our pleasure at CNIB to host the JIB in our Ottawa offices to share thoughts, philosophies, and solutions for the people we serve. Taking the conversation across borders and cultures can only make us all better at what we do.”
JIB brochures will be available at Bnai Yeshurun.
What: The leadership of the Jerusalem Institute for the Blind will discuss their innovative work at a Shabbat Third Meal open to the community.
When: May 18, 8:10 p.m.
Where: Social hall of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, 641 W. Englewood Ave., Teaneck
How much: Free. There will be no solicitation of funds.
If you want to give: Donations can be sent to Jerusalem Institute for Blind, 1 University Plaza, Suite 506, Hackensack, NJ 07601
More information: (212) 532-4155; email@example.com