Feb 28, 2022  By Sue Carneol, MS., CCC-SLP  Category: Special Needs,

I found my JNF-USA passion project. What's yours?

Perhaps it was in first grade when I was asked to help a young classmate with polio adjust his leg braces before recess every day. Or maybe it was an episode from the  1970s TV series Marcus Welby M.D. about a young girl with profound deafness who learned to speak. I really can’t say what motivated me to pursue a career in the field of rehabilitation, specifically communication disorders, but I have never looked back with regret. Rather, I have truly appreciated all the rewarding experiences and inspirational people I have encountered on both sides of the speech therapy table over the years. 

Maimonides taught us in the Mishnah Torah that the highest form of Tzedakah (charity) is to help someone learn to help themselves. This is basic to the work I have been doing with people of all ages and abilities, whether it is teaching new or compensatory skills or restoring lost or impaired function. I can honestly say this is what drew me to Jewish National Fund-USA several years ago when I learned the organization was much more than planting trees in Israel honor or in memory of a loved one. I first read about the Sderot Indoor Recreational Center in our local Jewish community newspaper, which led me to research more humanitarian projects JNF-USA was supporting.

I naturally drifted to the new rehabilitation village that JNF-USA was helping build in the Negev, ADI-Negev-Nahalat Eran (formerly Aleh Negev-Nahalat Eran.) I was so impressed with the vison to establish a community that would be accessible to all, making it a more inclusive for all who lived there. This resulted in me getting more involved with our local chapter, eventually becoming the Wisconsin board president for four years. While our chapter highlighted  and supported a vast variety of projects and programs, (water resources, restoration of heritage sites, agricultural research and development, education and advocacy, etc.) to me it was the projects that fell under the Disabilities Task Force (Adi Negev, Special in Uniform, Lotem, Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center) that seemed to emulate the essence of what JNF stood for: building a bright and beautiful future for the people and the land of Israel.

I became a member of JNF-USA’s Disabilities Task force so I could continue to learn first-hand about these incredible programs that put accessibility and inclusion at the core of their society missions. On my husband’s and my last visit to Israel (pre-pandemic) in January 2019, we had the privilege of visiting ADI Negev and a Special in Uniform base. We left with such pride and inspiration for everything that these projects had accomplished in such a short period of time, both walking the talk of enhancing the lives of the participants and their families.  

In the fall of 2020, I helped launch an initiative for our Wisconsin community to sponsor a Special in Uniform base. Through networking and (virtual) face to face solicitations, we met our goal  in  nine months of raising $100,000 to sponsor 20 soldiers. I have nothing but pride and admiration for all of us who contributed to this project. The SIU base in the upper Galilee, near our Partnership Together (P2G) region, was named in honor of Jewish National Fund-USA in Wisconsin. I share this with all of you, not to brag about what we accomplished in a short period of time, but rather to inspire any or all of you to find a project that you are passionate about and devote your time, talent and resources to its growth and success.

As we hopefully are coming out of the pandemic phase of our lives and entering a “new normal,” my wish for all of us would be to keep building a stronger, healthier, and more inclusive society for everyone, here in the USA and in our homeland of Israel. At the risk of being cliché, I’d like to end with a quote that speaks to me, through a JNF-USA perspective:

We do not “do” inclusion “for” people with disabilities. Rather it is incumbent upon us to figure out how all the things we do can be inclusive.  -Lisa Friedman, Jewish educator and expert in disability inclusion

 May we, as part of the Jewish National Fund-USA family, continue to go from strength to strength in our efforts to make this world a better place for all.

In honor of Jewish Disability, Acceptance, Awareness, and Inclusion Month, every gift made in support of  Jewish National Fund-USA's work for people with special needs is matched, up to $1 million, through Feb. 28, 2022. Donate now.