A kibbutz for care

A look at a unique community in Israel, where special people learn about independence and self-worth.

Miriam Sushman
Yoni Sheftman of nearby Carmiel leads Tamira out of the stable. Kibbutz members feed and groom the horses and maintain the stables. There’s also a therapeutic riding program.

All members of Kibbutz Kishorit have been diagnosed with a mental or emotional challenge; some have a physical challenge as well. But the 150 members live much as those on any other kibbutz. They go to work, eat communal meals, and enjoy activities such as yoga and acting in plays. Each has an assigned social worker. Professional staff supervise work sites: others monitor residences. 

The kibbutz began in 1994 with discussions among parents who were unhappy with their children’s options of institutionalization or extended dependency at home. Kishorit was founded in 1997 at the site of an abandoned kibbutz. 

As part of their rehabilitation, members work at businesses that will one day help support the kibbutz, currently dependent on government money and fundraising. Among them: a toy factory, a stable for therapeutic riding, a kennel, and a TV studio. Some 20 percent of the members work at jobs away from the kibbutz, to give them a sense of independence and self-worth.

Psychiatrist Desmond Kaplan of Maryland has had extensive dealings with Kishorit. “I have never seen anything like it in Israel or the United States or England or South Africa,” he says. “There is something very democratic, something very humanistic, nonpatronizing” about it, he says. He also admires its “attempt at social integration between Jews and Arabs,” which includes a high school for students diagnosed with mental illness open to Arabs as well as Jews. A sister facility for Arabs with special needs is being built on the kibbutz grounds.

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