It takes a village

Kfar Tikva (‘Village of Hope’) was founded by German-Jewish scientist Siegfried Hirsch in 1964. After finding limited options available for his developmentally disabled adult daughter, he decided to start a new community. 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

KFAR TIKVA, Israel — Even with F-16s sporadically flying overhead, this kibbutz-like community in the Lower Galilee region, overlooking the Jezreel Valley, exudes peace and tranquility.

Much of that has to do with the 200 or so adults, spanning in age from 20 to 78, who live in this bucolic community. All are developmentally disabled. Many of them work here too, though some shuttle back and forth to surrounding villages where they are employed in local shops.

“There is a very wide disparity as to the types and degrees of disabilities,” explains Benji Hain, director of development at Kfar Tikva and our self-appointed tour guide. “You can live here with a lot of supervision or you can live here pretty independently.

“The founding principle is of choice,” he continues. “Someone with disabilities should have the same type of options as anyone else.”

Hain, 40, married and a father of three, was a defense industry lawyer in the United States before he made aliyah in 2000. He explains that Siegfried Hirsch, a German-Jewish scientist who moved to Palestine in 1930, established Kfar Tikva in 1964 because he was dissatisfied with other options available for his adult stepdaughter with developmental delays. His goal, as Hain relates, was to create an environment “where adults with special needs can lead active, productive lives filled with opportunities for personal growth, communal camaraderie and meaningful opportunities to integrate in the community at large.” Other German Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, followed suit and brought their aging children with special needs to this “Village of Hope,” which is what Kfar Tikva means in Hebrew.

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Today, the village has a staff of 85 people, plus a number of volunteers from Israel and abroad, especially from Germany. Hain explains that in lieu of serving in the German Army, young Germans can opt to volunteer here. Elisa Woeber, 20, has spent about six months assisting disabled members of the Kfar Tikva community at their various workplaces. “I like the variety of experiences here. It’s never the same every day,” says Woeber. 

 

A place for life

As we tour the grounds, Hain points out a middle-aged German man planting trees in a distant field. “He volunteered here 30 years ago and came back to help plant,” says Hain. 

It’s easy to see why volunteers and residents get attached to this place. It boasts rolling hills, pretty vistas and green spaces to stretch out. Living quarters are separated from the businesses, and a communal dining room welcomes all.

Typically two residents share a modest cottage, and choose their own furnishing. Those who require constant care or supervision live in specially adapted group cottages, which house between six and eight residents, with no more than two to a bedroom.

Various craft workshops provide a creative outlet for those interested in trying their hand at jewelry making, ceramics and papier mâché, which are then sold in local stores and art fairs, thus helping to raise money for the village. And because there are no fences or gates, people have a real sense of freedom that seems to run counter to life at other residential developmental disability centers worldwide.

 “There is a pretty stringent screening process our residents go through because (Kfar Tikva) wouldn’t be right for someone who is a wanderer or someone who has violent tendencies,” says Hain, adding that all residents have individualized programs to address their specific needs and map out their daily routines and activities. A full-time nurse lives in the village while doctors and psychiatrists visit regularly. Each resident also is assigned a case manager on staff who serves as an advocate and mentor.

Kfar Tikva is actually a non-profit corporation—the shareholders are the parents of the residents. Funding for day-to-day operations comes primarily from the Israeli government while capital improvements and building projects depend on the generosity of donors, in Israel and abroad.

“We face a number of challenges, including an aging population and an infrastructure that is wearing down,” says Hain. “We have to make things more accessible for people as they get older.

“Kfar Tikva is a place for life,” Hain continues. “Parents know if their child comes here at (age) 20 (parents) can rest assure that their child can stay here for as long as they want. But westill want to bring more young people in to help keep the community vibrant.”

 

Business and development

 

The small businesses at Kfar Tikva go a long way in adding to that vibrancy and include a candle factory (the largest employer), dog kennel and animal farm. In order to operate a business here, owners must agree to employ a certain number of the residents, integrating them into the workplace.

“It has to be the right business, one that is accommodating,” says Hain. “But it’s win-win because we offer very good conditions in terms of rent and our workforce.” 

Don’t go thinking for a minute that these businesses are marginal: Kfar Tikva boasts one of the largest boutique wineries in all of Israel. Established by the Itzhaki family in 2003, the Tulip Winery now produces roughly 150,000 bottles of premium wine every year, including seven varieties of red and two white. 

From the day Tulip opened here, residents have been vital to its workforce. They take part in the harvest as well as packaging the wines, and assisting at the winery’s visitor center. 

Nathan Can’ani, who has lived at Kfar Tikva for more than 40 years, has worked at the winery since it opened. “I like to work,” says Can’ani, mugging for a reporter’s camera. “I like the bottling machine best.”

On the walk back from the winery, Hain introduces us to residents Yossi and Miriam, who could easily be mistaken for an older, married couple. Hain says that before Yossi underwent a recent cataract surgery and could hardly see, Miriam was at his side 24/7, guiding him from place to place, and helping him with his daily chores.

“Now they’re just together most of the time,” jokes Hain. “Some people forge very close friendships. They really rely on one another.”

As to the future, Hain says Kfar Tikva has several short and long-term projects in the works. Current building projects include a therapeutic animal care farm with an attached therapeutic horseback-riding center; a nursing care facility for aging residents who require round-the-clock attention and a new medical clinic. Hain says the current clinic is inaccessible to some physically disabled members and is too small to adequately serve the community.

“We also have been approached by a group of parents who are looking for a place for their adult autistic children,” says Hain. “But of course to continue to grow and develop depends on funding and donations.”

He pauses for a minute and adds, “Isn’t that always the case?”

 

 

 

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