Who We Are
A Message from the Chairman of AKIM Israel
“When I began as Chairman of AKIM, I found myself entering a world with a powerful message, expressing a belief in the ability of all people and consequently, of a society, to change. By putting the individual at the center and encircling them with a supportive and inclusive network, AKIM allows all people to be active participants in society. Through accessible programming, housing and advocacy, individuals are motivated towards maximum inclusion and acceptance.
I strongly believe in people, created in G-d’s image. I find it exciting and rewarding to discover how, in measured and goal-oriented work, Akim’s staff and volunteers succeed by focusing on each individual and looking beyond their disability to reveal the beauty in each face and reveal the light of each soul.
AKIM’s goal of promoting self-advocacy is a valiant one requiring each of us to go beyond our innate tendency to define and categorize, and our desire to remain within familiar comfort zones. AKIM is calling on each of us to expand our circle of belonging and convey to others that they are not transparent, that they belong, and that they are heard.
In the pursuit of inclusion, there is often a tension between the desire for independence and one’s natural urge to protect a more vulnerable person. To mitigate our impulse to become overprotective, we must reinforce our belief in their individual capabilities, their unique will, and in their growth, despite any setbacks along the way.
The path to inclusion requires tremendous courage, and AKIM, as a leading provider of advocacy and empowerment for individuals with intellectual disabilities, has chosen to walk it. With a focus on every individual, AKIM harnesses their strengths and strives to actualize their dreams.
I observe people and family members who are coping with intellectual disabilities and witness a miracle. The natural tendency of people facing a complex reality is to retract and become absorbed in the day to day challenges. AKIM activists and volunteers choose the opposite. They are not parents or siblings of, or the ones coping with mental and developmental disabilities, rather they chose to be emissaries and help improve Israeli society by transforming it into a better, more inclusive one.
It is my privilege to partner with AKIM in this journey. I have no allusions about how quickly change will take place. Prejudice and fear may be entrenched in the universal conduct of a society, however, given time, education and exposure, these beliefs can give way to acceptance and inclusion through AKIM’s efforts. The goal to transform and the drive to achieve it with determination is the narrative of this exceptional organization.
This is what our sages taught us in the Mishnah: “You are not obligated to complete the task, but you are not free to exempt yourself from it.”
Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau
Chairman of AKIM Israel
Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lau
Chairman of AKIM Israel
Rabbi Dr. Binyamin ‘Benny’ Lau is a charismatic leading social commentator, educator and author. He is a frequent guest on Israeli media and heads the very popular 929 Bible Project dedicated to creating a global Jewish conversation around important issues.
Rabbi Lau studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion and HaKibbutz HaDati and earned a bachelor’s degree in History and Talmud from Hebrew University as well as Master’s and Doctorate degrees from Bar-Ilan University.
Rav ‘Benny’ previously directed the Center for Judaism and Society at Beit Morasha in Jerusalem and founded their Beit Midrash for women. Additionally, he served as Rabbi of the prestigious Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem for many years and was a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Along with Etty Ankry, he was awarded the Religious Tolerance Award from the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in 2014.
Rabbi Lau has advised government ministries and social organizations on public policy relating to Judaism as well as human rights, including improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. He is a pioneer, making Judaism accessible to people with disabilities, by way of The 929 Project and Together in Tanach, programs specifically geared towards making Bible study possible for people with intellectual disabilities.
Among his writings, Rabbi Lau authored a collection of essays on the status of people with intellectual disabilities within Jewish tradition; a highly popular series entitled The Sages (“Hahachim”); and “Jeremiah: The Fate of a Prophet”, a fascinating analysis of the Book of Jeremiah.
Rabbi Lau is a strong and outspoken advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of modern society.