Louise Linton (c) at Shalva National Center
Louise Linton (c) at Shalva National CenterCourtesy of Shalva

While US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin was in meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, his wife Louise Linton together with Tammy Friedman, wife of US Ambassador to Israel, took time to come to visit children with disabilities in Jerusalem.

During her recent trip to the Israeli capital, Scottish actress and wife of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, Lousie Linton made a special trip to what has become a new Jerusalem landmark - the Shalva National Center, Israel’s largest and most advanced center for the care and inclusion of people with disabilities.

The eleven-story complex is home to rehabilitation and support programs for 2,000 children with disabilities and their families from infancy to adulthood. Complimented by distinguished architecture and artistic installations by famous Israeli artists, the center houses Jerusalem’s only public inclusive playgrounds and several state-of-the-art disability accessible facilities like a 360 seat auditorium and semi-Olympic hydrotherapy swimming pool.

The two dignitary guests enjoyed a coffee at Café Shalva, a popular, boutique coffee shop at the Shalva center that inspires social inclusion through its integrated staff of people with and without disabilities. Linton and Freedman enjoyed visiting with the children in Shalva’s preschool and touring the other facilities; however, the prominent artistic display at the building’s main entrance is what resonated most. The five-foot-tall mobile with large painted metal butterflies extended in all directions is artist David Gerstein’s largest piece yet, which he created for Shalva in memory of his late wife.

“The symbol of the butterfly is there to remind us that even a butterfly that flies so beautifully and gives us such pleasure has a very challenging beginning in its cocoon,” explains Kalman Samuels, Shalva’s founder and president. “So too our children, and it is our mission to give them the tools they need to ultimately fly to the best of their abilities.”

"This is the most incredible place I have ever been," commented Linton, who starred in Hollywood films and TV Shows, like Cabin Fever, CSI: NY, and Cold Case. “This is such a happy place.”

Linton and Friedman also met Yossi Samuels, the inspiration behind Shalva’s establishment.

Forty years ago, Yossi was rendered blind and deaf, among other disabilities, when he suffered complications stemming from faulty vaccine during infancy.

His parents, Kalman and Malki Samuels, struggled to raise him at home within their family and community; but made a promise that should they one day be able to connect with their son, they would dedicate themselves to helping children and families in similar situations. At the age of eight, Yossi was miraculously taught to communicate via sign language in the palm of the hand and Shalva began a thirty-year journey of pioneering program development in the areas of therapy, special education, family support and social change.

During their meeting with Yossi, Linton and Friedman used sign language to carry on discussions with Yossi about his greatest passions- politics, cars and mobile technology. Inspired by the encounter, Friedman took the liberty to extend the message of the butterfly further. "Yossi is a real example of the butterfly effect" explained Friedman. "It is really remarkable how the experience of raising one child with disabilities can have a ripple effect that leads to so many other families with children with disabilities to receive this amazing support."

“Over the years, but especially since the opening of the new center, Shalva has brought about significant changes in how the world understands, cares for, and embraces disability,” says Yochanan Samuels, Shalva’s CEO who took Linton and Friedman on their tour. “I hope this will be one of many more important visits to come.”