THE AVIV KINDERGARTEN, a therapeutic childcare facility at the Feinberg Family Center in Rishon Letzion, provides an intensive remedial environment for very young children with autism. Now, the Feinberg family has helped expand the facility to serve even more youngsters and their families.
The Feinberg center—a branch of the Matnas (community center) in the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s partner city of Rishon Letzion—is located in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood, which has a significant population of Ethiopian immigrants. During a trip to Israel in the late ’90s with his wife, Betty, Sheldon Feinberg of Short Hills, who passed away in 2004, witnessed the struggles of Ethiopian immigrants to assimilate into Israeli society. In 2008, Betty and their children, Randi, Lori, Peter, and Jami, dedicated the center in Sheldon Feinberg’s name. Many of the Feinbergs’ family members and friends contributed to the construction of the complex, which initially provided such after-school activities as dance, music, and sports as well as a place for adults to take classes and receive counseling to assist them in their integration into Israeli life.
The Feinberg center included a general day care center that eventually offered specialized services for children with special needs. That evolved into the Aviv Kindergarten, a pilot experimental initiative created in partnership with the Autism Research and Treatment Center: The Association for Children at Risk, the largest organization in Israel that provides diagnosis and therapeutic intervention for children with autism in daycare centers and schools.
Until recently the Aviv Kindergarten was equipped to serve only 10 children each year; the expansion project has doubled its capacity and includes a specialized second classroom, a playground, and additional teachers on staff.
“My father was about the doing,” said Lori Feinberg Kany, “about recognizing needs and overcoming obstacles. He would have been thrilled that the center has turned into such an important facility which other communities are using as a model.”
In addition to the Feinberg family via the federation, the expansion was funded through other sources, including the Rishon Letzion municipality, the Matnas community center budget, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Israel’s Ministry of Welfare and Social Services supervises the program and provides subsidies to the families.