A version of this article by Ely Cohen originally appeared in the Jewish Chronicle (UK) on November 16, 2023 under the title "These Israeli families need our help more than ever".
The work of the Malki Foundation, which helps families in Israel raising a child with extreme special needs, is particularly important in the wake of October 7
From its inception, the work of the Malki Foundation, set up in 2001 in memory of Malki Roth, who was killed age 15 in a terrorist attack, has been to help ease the burden that rests on the shoulders of a specific population: families in Israel raising a child with extreme special needs.
They are among the most under-resourced people in Israel, and for a significant number of them, it’s a challenge made even harsher when, often for socio-economic reasons, they live far from Israel’s main centres.
We empower these families to keep their children at home by providing them with paramedical therapies at their homes.
Now we’re in a war that began explosively, and of the 40 children and families currently in our Therapists on Wheels programme that focuses on Israel’s periphery communities, 20 — all of them families with a child with severe disabilities — live within 15km of Israel’s Gaza border, in the heart of the warzone. [Background: "Death, destruction, debris mark borderline kibbutz communities near Gaza", JNS, October 17, 2023]
Realising how close some families are to the currently active battlefields, we have been texting and calling families who, in some cases, have got Malki Foundation’s support for years.
We have managed to get in touch with all of them, getting some sense of their needs and what we can do to help, and thankfully, all are physically fine. As for trauma, only time will tell.
Our speech therapist lives in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz just 1.5 kilometers from the Gaza border. Hamas terrorists took over Kfar-Aza on October 7, and hostages were taken.
It’s a story of horror, as our therapist described in a WhatsApp message she sent almost two days after the attack. “The IDF evacuated us, and we are on the way to Eilat. What we survived is a miracle…”
Netiv HaAsara is a moshav right on the Gaza border. It, too, was invaded by Hamas terrorists. The family of an eight-year-old child with severe disabilities, which is supported by the Malki Foundation program, lives there.
The parents were reluctant to share much detail but thanked us for staying in touch and for our prayers. We were left pondering what the family must have endured until the IDF rescued them.
Because we have long-running relations with the families, it’s evident that some of the families need much more help while settling into a new and temporary home.
A family with a disabled child left Ashkelon for Rishon Letzion after a missile hit their parking lot and totaled their custom-fitted, wheelchair-accessible vehicle. It will take three months until they can get a new car modified for their child’s needs, and in the meantime the family is housebound.
One family rushed to leave the town as they were suffering from endless amounts of missiles. As the family had a small car, they had no room for some of the special equipment their child needed. It has been over a week since, but the traumatised parents are too frightened to go back and pick up the equipment.
As schools in the south are not all open yet, children have been unable to receive the necessary paramedical therapies. However, the Malki Foundation has been providing therapy sessions at the children’s homes, ensuring the continuity of their treatments.
Due to the special relationships we have forged over the years, we are working on matching relocated families with a temporary therapist to maintain treatment continuity. It’s a privilege - but also a heavy obligation for us.
Providing emotional and physical support to families during their child’s therapy is as important as the therapy itself.
Our work has always been about conveying to the family that we stand with them and let them know someone is there to help, support, and advise. That while fighting for their child, they are not entirely alone.
An emergency support fund was established in the past two weeks by Malki Foundation UK. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the UK at phone number 0203-637-4245
Ely Cohen is the director of Keren Malki, Jerusalem, The Malki Foundation UK, Registered United Kingdom Charity No. 1164793, raises funds for Keren Malki.