April 13, 2024
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Greater MetroWest Helps Expand Kindergarten Program for Children With Autism in Israel

(Courtesy of JFGMW) Under Israeli law, every child with autism is entitled to 14 hours per week of therapy, from diagnosis through the end of kindergarten. Therapeutic childcare centers, like the Aviv Kindergarten at The Feinberg Family Center in Rishon LeZion, provide an intensive remedial environment during a pivotal period of child development from the ages of 1 1/2 to 3 years old. In partnership with the innovative Autism Research and Treatment Center: The Association for Children at Risk (ACR) the Aviv Kindergarten has become, in many ways, the jewel in the crown of the Feinberg Family Center and the community at large. And now, thanks to the generosity of the Feinberg family, the expanded facility is equipped to serve even more children and their families.

The Feinberg Family Center is a branch of the Matnas (community center) in Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s partner city of Rishon LeZion. It’s in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood, which has a significant population of Ethiopian immigrants. Soon after the center opened in 2008, it became an after-school refuge for kids, offering dance, music, sports and other programs, as well as providing a place for adults to take classes and receive counseling to help them integrate into Israeli society.

The Feinberg Family Center was named in honor of Sheldon Feinberg z”l, who returned from a trip to Israel in the late 90s with his wife, Betty, determined to make a meaningful difference in the Ethiopian-Israeli experience. He was particularly moved by the difficulties he witnessed as these new Israelis struggled to assimilate into Israeli society. After he passed away in 2004, Betty and their children, Randi, Lori, Peter and Jami, dedicated the center in his name. Many of the Feinbergs’ generous family and friends contributed to the construction of the complex.

The Feinberg Center originally included a general day care center, which eventually specialized in serving children with special needs. In response to community needs, it ultimately evolved into the Aviv Kindergarten, a therapeutic program for autistic children created in partnership with the innovative Autism Research and Treatment Center: The Association for Children at Risk (ACR), a national professional organization that provides the specialists and organizes the curriculum.

Until recently, the Aviv Kindergarten has been able to serve only 10 kindergartners each year, due to limited space and resources. But now, with this expansion project, they have doubled their capacity to serve this growing need. The expansion includes a specialized second classroom named Gan Parparim (butterfly garden), playground and set of teachers to address the particular needs of children with autism.

The staff focuses on designing flexible, individual treatment programs, employing a variety of the most validated interventions. ACR is the largest and most established organization in Israel, providing diagnosis, treatment and therapeutic intervention for toddlers and school children with autism in their natural environment, be it in daycare centers, preschools, or schools. The Aviv Kindergarten, which started as a pilot experimental initiative, became a national model of success.

Lori Feinberg Kany said, “My father was about the doing. About recognizing needs and overcoming obstacles. He would have been thrilled that the center has turned into such an important facility which other communities are using as a model.”

The expansion was funded through a variety of sources in addition to the generosity of the Feinberg family via Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, including the local municipality, the Matnas community center budget and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Israel’s Ministry of Welfare and Social Services supervises the program and provides subsidies to the families, including for transportation to the center. The municipality of Rishon LeZion is now planning to build similar classrooms in other locations as well.

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