Founded in 1997 by Shuki Levinger, a social worker, and Yael Shilo, a textile artist who was trying to find a way to ensure the future of her special-needs stepson, Kishorit is today a thriving community situated in the pastoral hills of Galilee. It provides a safe haven as well as a warm and loving home and a source of employment for its almost 150 members. All of these have been diagnosed with a disability such as autism, Down’s syndrome, schizophrenia or special needs of one kind or another.
The village is built on the site of the former Kibbutz Kishor, and its way of life is based on that of the kibbutz (‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’), with the community serving as the focal point of daily life.
The village is staffed by professionals in a number of fields, and is also on its way to becoming a self-supporting entity, with various branches of agriculture, crafts, and animal husbandry. For example, in addition to growing organic fruit and vegetables, there is a special section where miniature Schnauzer dogs and some Dachshounds are bred. These are then shown at dog shows all over the world, sometimes even accompanied by members of the community. Kishorit is very proud of its dogs, which have won numerous international prizes.
Almost all the members are employed in one branch of activity or another, as working and contributing usefully to the wider community is regarded as having a beneficial effect, enabling individuals with disabilities to fulfil their potential and live in as independent a way as possible. Inter alia, there is an organic goat dairy, a workshop producing wooden toys and a TV production studio. More recently, a vineyard has been planted and a winery established, with members making their own wine, some of which have already won international prizes. The products of the winery and the other areas of activity are on sale in the community’s shop. Some members work in the community’s kitchen, laundry or farm, and each individual is given pocket money in return for their services. A staff of some 175 professionals and volunteers, some of them permanent, help the members of the community to function as independently as possible.
Social and sporting activities are also an integral part of life at Kishorit, with basketball and football games, yoga and karate classes and video games, cookies and coffee at the community’s club. Therapy of the more conventional kind is also provided, and this even extends to relationship counselling for members who feel ready to embark on closer ties with a boyfriend or girlfriend within the community.
The demand for places at Kishorit far exceeds supply, and many families have to be turned away, to the regret of the organisers. Construction work intended for the establishment of a small sister-community for Arabs with special needs is already under way. The intention is to maintain close cooperation and interaction between the two communities, while adhering to the language and culture of each one. Some funds are forthcoming from Israel’s government and charitable contributions, while those families that are able to pay also contribute to the costs of the community.
The concept of a village inhabited by people with special needs provides a positive and radical solution to a variety of problems. One of these is enabling parents who are concerned about what lies ahead as they grow older to sleep more peacefully at night. Kishorit has created an environment that enables special-needs individuals to live in a safe and harmonious environment. The ability to provide peace of mind for the parents of these individuals is something that cannot be measured in financial terms.
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