With its roots strongly planted within the Iranian Jewish community, the ILAI Fund, based in Israel recently celebrated the generosity and support of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF) and its president Robert Kahen working to improve the lives of special needs children living across Israel.
With a focus on supporting the disabled and those with special needs amongst other Israeli populations, the IAJF contributes to over 190 organizations, primarily in Israel and has raised close to $47 million at their annual dinners, with the upcoming gala event celebrating Israel’s 70th scheduled for mid November in New York City.
Founded 13 years ago by Albert Shaltiel, who escaped from Iran in 1988 and immigrated to Israel in 2000, the ILAI fund is dedicated to assisting special needs children with medical and financial support. “Israel has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, but people in the lower socioeconomic levels with a child of special needs often don’t have enough to provide for their children and are in desperate need of support,” said Shaltiel. “It is our duty to bridge this gap and help provide for them, as I would hope others would if our family were in their shoes. Disabled children, especially those from single parent homes, are those who most need our support and our Fund was created to respond to those needs.”
The Ilai Fund partnership with IAJF supports the iCan-iPad program, one of the many run by the Ilai Fund, which provides specially programmed iPads for over 100 Israeli children challenged with autism or cerebral palsy. Appreciating that these conditions often rob children of the ability to effectively communicate with their surroundings, the iPads are designed to give these children a voice. “Technology has given us the ability to provide a way for these special children to express their feelings and reach out to their family and friends in ways that were never before possible,” Shaltiel says. “Through this program, the home becomes a more relaxed environment for both the children themselves and their families.”
The devices are outfitted with special programs focused on enhancing communication that work with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy techniques, an increasingly relied upon approach used for children with communication disorders. Purchasing these devices and putting a child on the ABA program can cost several thousand shekels a month -most of which is not covered by insurance. The ILAI fund works most often with families facing economic hardships, often single mothers, to help these children get what they need. Moran, a single mother of four, two of which have autism and are beneficiaries of the Fund’s support, described the program saying, “It’s a real miracle how this has changed our lives. My sons have become more independent and confident and can now express themselves when they are hungry, in pain or need to go to the bathroom and it’s been a huge relief on how our family operates.”
“The IAJF and Robert Kahen are a big part of this program’s success and we feel deeply appreciative that we can be working together on behalf of these special children,” Shaltiel says. “It’s remarkable to see how a community in New York can really transform the life of a child they might never meet or get to know. On behalf of those families we are deeply grateful.”