NGO Aiding Deaf Israeli Children to Close Due to Lack of Funds

The non-profit, which serves a third of deaf Israeli children aged 6 to 18, had its government funding cut last year.

Rami Kandkhorov and Millie Wasserstrum at the Tel Aviv center of Shema, an NGO working with deaf and hard-of-hearing children, March 30, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Shema, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic and social services to about a third of deaf Israeli children aged 6 to 18, will be shutting down at the end of the school year because its budget is no longer sufficient.

The nonprofit began experiencing serious financial difficulties around half a year ago after its government funding was cut by 30 percent over two years. It now has a deficit of some 1 million shekels ($264,000). The organization held a fundraising event earlier this month but the sum collected was not enough to continue operating.

“The Social Affairs Ministry doesn’t care about the thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and teens in Israel. It scorns us and the children and thinks we’ll continue providing services no matter what they do,” said Shema director Arik Meir. “The state is withdrawing its responsibility for deaf children Those children, who have no alternative framework and no place that will give them the services they receive from us, have been abandoned.”

After Haaretz reported on the budget cut in December, the Knesset Education Committee held a hearing on the issue. After the hearing, Shema officials met with Social Affairs Ministry Director-General Eliezer Yablon, who promised to find a budgetary solution for 2016 within two months. After two months had passed, Shema learned that nothing had been done and its people met with Yablon again two weeks ago. At the meeting, Yablon explained that there would be no budgetary relief in 2016, but he would try to find money for 2017. “We told him we wouldn’t survive until 2017 if there were no budgets, but there has been no response,” Meir said.

Shema provides services to some 1,000 children and teens at five centers throughout the country. While very young children and Haredi deaf children are assisted by other organizations, only Shema provides services to the 6-18 age group in the general population. It holds afternoon social clubs and enrichment classes, a bank for loaning hearing aids and amplifiers, sign language classes, and therapy and emotional support for the children and their families.

In 2013, Shema received 580,000 shekels from the Social Affairs Ministry. In 2015 the amount dropped to 400,000 shekels, about 15 percent of the organization’s annual outlay. The group fired staff, reduced the hours of those who remained and cut purchases, but to no avail.

“While I do hear and speak well enough for people to think that I’m fine, it’s not so,” explained Rami Kandhorov, who is hard of hearing, was served by, and now works for Shema. “I still miss a lot of content, I can’t catch everything that’s going on around me, and Shema is a place that made sure I wouldn’t miss anything, they made sure I’d always understand.

“Communicating with other hard-of-hearing people is an enormous relief; I don’t have to keep explaining how to speak to me properly or strain to understand,” Kandhorov continued. “It’s the only place that understands my needs, the only place I don’t have to turn on my daily survival mechanism."

“The world outside is cruel to the hard-of-hearing, because it isn’t always accessible or friendly,” he said. “This is the only place that helps kids like this.”

Next week, the parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children who are served by Shema are planning a demonstration at the government precinct in Jerusalem.

The Social Affairs Ministry called the media attention that Meir was trying to generate as “divorced from reality.”

“The Shema association is not the only nonprofit that deals with the deaf and hard-of-hearing,” the ministry added. “Only last year the ministry doubled the responses and budgets for the various groups, including Shema. The budget is now 35 million shekels.”