Migdal Or – A Light Unto Our Community

Even under “normal” circumstances, the loss of one’s sight can be dreadfully isolating, but when a nationwide quarantine in Israel took away the hands-on methods that experts ordinarily used to help orient and integrate the blind into their communities, these vulnerable populations become increasingly at risk of slipping into the secluded margins of Israeli society.

Migdal Or, Hebrew for lighthouse, has been tending to the wellbeing of Israel’s vision impaired for over 60 years.

Every year, around 3,000 individuals of all ages and from all backgrounds benefit from their services. And though they’ve certainly faced their fair share of challenges over that span, there is little precedent to the threat that COVID-19 has presented to their community’s professional and educational needs as well as to their connection to the world around them.

With this crisis within a crisis looming larger every day, Executive Director Oded Bashan and the Migdal Or team have implemented a series of new initiatives designed to empower the visually impaired with the tools and skills they need to function independently.

Their “Project for Remote Support” during COVID-19 includes:

  • Emotional support and information about the rights of the visually impaired through a telephone hotline service and online meetings, both of which are staffed by social workers.
  • Expert real-time online guidance and training on various topics regarding the populations' educational and professional needs.
  • A remote functional rehabilitation program focusing on assistive technology and activities of daily living.
  • A wide array of social activities that range from yoga and meditation to crossword puzzles, history lectures, and engaging activities for children.
Screenshot of a virtual workshop led by Migdal Or (via Facebook)

“People made friends and connections in those groups during a time when they desperately needed to,” said Migdal Or Community Relations Manager, Tanya Korach.

“And people with children at home were able to occupy them with healthy activities. We even did some scientific experiments with them. Afterward, one of the moms sent us a video of her child succeeding and she said, ‘Oh my God, she’s so happy. Look at her smiling.’ I’ll also never forget how another person wrote and told us that we gave them air to breathe.”

The broad array of assistive technologies Migdal Or is using in their functional rehabilitation efforts includes magnifiers and closed-circuit televisions, mobility canes, color-detectors, tactile games, computers with customized software, and smartphone applications.

“Today my instructor guided me remotely, over two hours,” said another participant in their remote functional rehab. “At first, I didn't believe I could do it, but I managed to surf the web and get in the library for the blind and download an app that I couldn't do before… It was fun!"

Image via Facebook

Migdal Or’s efforts both before and after COVID-19 have resulted in hundreds of similar success stories from every sector of Israeli society. “And the Federation has always been with us,” said Bashan.

“They’ve trusted us to innovate and develop new solutions. And they’ve even helped us make contacts with different NGOs within Israel and in the USA so that we could learn best practices from each other and implement them in a way that works best for us.”

According to Barak Loozon, the director of the Federation’s Israel office, the speed, flexibility, and variety of Migdal Or’s responses to the present worldwide predicament have been one of the most impressive and impactful undertakings he has ever witnessed. And hopefully, the light of their example will help illuminate a pathway for others to do the same.

Image via Facebook

Thanks to endowed restricted funds, Migdal Or received $50,000 in COVID-19 relief funding from the Federation which enabled them to provide remote emotional support, information about rights, real-time online guidance and training, the adaptation of remote functional rehabilitation, and social activities for visually impaired individuals. Throughout the pandemic, these funds helped them manage 100 calls per week, 40 therapy groups, social activities for over 1,000 participants, adaptation and implementation of remote functional rehabilitation, and a pilot for 100 service recipients.

Categories: Community, Israel, Grantees


September 21, 2020


Jon Moskin