UK Jewish Telegraph - Dec 2000
BRITISH BOOST FOR BEIT URI
By Lydia Aisenberg
A very special group of Israeli youngsters, treated cruelly by Mother Nature at birth, have become her most ardent and industrious watchdogs over what had been a neglected forest near their village, with the help of British JNF.
The residents of Beit Uri, situated on the aptly named Givat Hamoreh (The Hill of the Teacher) near Afula ,are indeed educational beacons in the darkness of environmental abuse.
Although inflicted with severe mental and physical retardation, the Beit Uri brigade physically struggled to remove builder's debris and other accumulated rubbish from the sloping forest overlooking one of the lushest agricultural basins in the country, the Jezreel Valley.
Some of the severely handicapped youngsters cannot hear the rustling of leaves in the breeze or chirping of the birds, some cannot see the beautiful patchwork valley below. Others cannot orally explain why they do what they do, as they have no voice.
Amongst these special guardians of the forest, there are those who cannot either see, hear nor speak, but their extraordianry efforts put the sinful refuse dumpers to even deeper shame, and sound a reverberating wake up call for the fully able bodied that have become deaf and blind to environmental destruction.
Working in the forest one day, the Beit Uri super squad and accompanying volunteers, spotted someone dumping refuse nearby. When they tried to remonstrate with him he took no notice, callously dumping his load. Undaunted, the volunteers, jotted down the offenders car number and lodged a complaint with the police. When the case came to court and upon hearing about the superhuman efforts of the Beit Uri residents, the livid judge imposed a heavy fine on the offender and directed that it be given to Beit Uri. Israeli newspapers dubbed the residents "Green Commandos"………………………
Haaretz - Dec 1999
With poetry in mind
by David Ratner
At Beit Uri, a residential facility in Afula,for people who suffer from mental retardation, residents are seen as ordinary people who do not understand their limitations and need 'therapeutic education'
In 1969, Devorah Schick sold the restaurant she owned on Monefiore Street in Tel Aviv, bought a plot of land in an area that, at the time, was an empty field at the top of Givat Hamoreh above Afula, and built a small house there. When the house was ready, she moved in with three children who suffered from mental retardation, along with one volunteer.
This was the beginning of Beit Uri, a shelter and residential facility for children, young people and adults with various degrees of mental retardation. Thirty-one years later, the isolated house has become a small village with 82 residents and more than that number of workers. In March Schick will be 92. She spends most of the day in her wheelchair, in the 10 square meter room she built for herself in the first building that housed the shelter. The only luxury she ever permitted herself from the outset is a toilet separate from the one used by residents. The bathroom is shared by everyone at Beit Uri to this day.
At noon, Schick goes out for a slow tour of her kingdom. She does not particularly like the media, and the staff say that there is no point in arguing: she refuses to acknowledge ever the definite advantages of media exposure for purposes of fundraising and public support. This month, she opened up very slightly: Schick and a select few of her charges were invited to Jerusalem, to a ceremony for the Magen Hayeled (Child Shield) prize given by the prime minister and the Israel Council of the Child. She was awarded the prize personally, and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who made sure to shake hands with every one of her charges, now appears in the shelter director's photo album being hugged by one of its residents…………………
When she settled in Givat Hamoreh, is was clear for Devorah that Beit Uri would be run according to Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophic outlook. According to these principles, residents are fed vegetarian food, there are no televisions in the houses and no radios or music equipment in the workshops and classrooms,. The Anthroposophic outlook say that technology does not allow teachers and couselors to give their full attention to their charges, and it muddles their senses. Schick ran the place very strictly, maintaining it with the money she had made from the sale of her restaurant, and reparations from Germany. ……..
Among the workers are new immigrants, a large group of residents of the Beduin village Shibli, army-age girls doing their national service ,and 16 volunteers - most of them young Germans carrying out their 18-month national service, which is recognized as an alternative to military service in their country.
The current director of Beit Uri is Yossi Shahar, 42, who had a yeshiva high school education and found his way to Anthroposophy in his mid-20's. When he tries to explain the theoretical and practical difference between an Anthroposophic faility and "conventional" facilities for mentally retarded people, he says that it is a bit like the difference between conventional medicine and homeopathic medicine : "A doctor usually relates to problems that he sees " says Shahar, "The Anthroposophic approach says that there are things that are not seen, and this is the healthy part of the individual. The anthroposophic says that there is no essential difference between me and the person I am taking care of. A person with handicaps has the same element of will to do things better. Very often, he does not have the ability, the awareness or the tools to bring this about - that's our job."……………..
When Shahar is asked how he can tell that a mentally handicapped child is "better off" in a facility that runs according to Anthroposophic principles, he shrugs: "I cannot say. But I can get feedback from other people. They say that here, the residents smile more."