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April 16, 2012 4:15 pm

Israel at 64: Innovation in Caring

avatar by Sarah Herskowitz

Shira and her friends enjoy a short outing to the nearby playground with a group of volunteers. Photo: Aleh.

As we ready ourselves for Israel’s upcoming birthday celebration and reflect on the last 64 years, we can’t help but swell with pride at our country’s many accomplishments.

In what seems like no time at all, the State of Israel has become a world leader in scientific research and technological development in fields ranging from medicine to green technology.  Over the last several decades, there has been a constant stream of citations and awards recognizing the contributions of our country’s academics, leaders and institutions and in addition, Israel is known as an international hub for innovation and a trailblazer in virtually every discipline – from economics to political science to biotechnology.

These achievements speak to a wider Israeli penchant for diagnosing flaws within a given paradigm or situation and developing practical, effective solutions. In short, Israel succeeds because its population is uniquely capable of filling gaps, fixing what’s broken and righting wrongs.

However, while the accolades achieved by Israel’s elite are impressive, they are by no means the best measurement of the country’s growth.  As I see it, true progress is defined by a society’s willingness to channel the same innovation and creativity developed for its business and government sectors into the treatment and care of its most vulnerable citizens.

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In this regard, Israel truly has a great deal to celebrate.

For the last twenty years, I have worked for ALEH, Israel’s largest network of residential facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. When I first began, our work was limited to ensuring that the children in our care were simply kept healthy and happy. But as times went on, our projects expanded and we began utilizing the most cutting-edge techniques and therapies available, allowing us to move light years beyond our initial mandate.

The secret formula that helped our organization grow, and improved care for the underprivileged and disabled across Israel over the last two decades, is yet another homegrown formula from the ‘start-up nation’ – I like to call it ‘innovation in caring’.

For example, while the impact made by donors and volunteers is usually measured in dollars and cents, Israeli donors and volunteers have simply refused to allow themselves to be limited by these standards.

Instead of clocking in and out, volunteers are consistently seeking new ways to give of themselves and maximize each and every visit. This trend has led to numerous advances for and a host of new services provided by non-profit organizations across the country.

Though the rise of a vibrant technology sector and a flurry of Nobel prizes receive the bulk of the headlines, Israel’s development is more capably explained in the growth of our charitable organizations and the integration of our neediest populations.

And so, here’s to the next batch of Israeli academics, leaders and entrepreneurs who will put us on the map with their revolutionary new methods of filling the gaps, fixing what’s broken and righting the wrongs.  But, most importantly, here’s to the next 64 spectacular years of Israeli innovation in caring.

Sarah Herskowitz is the director of international relations for ALEH (, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. ALEH provides over 650 children from around Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care in an effort to help them reach their greatest potentials.

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