Seeing through the eyes of a blind Arab-Israeli

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My wife has consistently told me that I am the lucky one to be engaged with (and be the founder of) Healing Across the Divides. The main focus of my Healing Across the Divides work in September absolutely proved the point.

Hanaa Shalata and Dr. Goldfield at the FDR memorial in Washington DC

Hanaa and I at the FDR memorial in Washington

I have never before spent virtually an entire day with a blind person. I was fortunate to do so with a remarkable young woman, Hanaa Shalata, director of Al-Manal Association for the Disabled of Sakhnin, Israel. The Women’s Health Collaborative, the joint partnership between the Cleveland Jewish Federation and Healing Across the Divides, hosted Hanaa Shalata in the United States for ten days in September as the organization she is director of is one of our grantees. She spoke at the Lion of Judah Annual Conference, a national organization of American Jewish women, in New York City. She also gave presentations to the American Jewish Committee, Northeast Region in Boston and other groups in Boston, Washington, New York, and Baltimore.

Everyone that met Hanaa was universally taken with her and by her – her personality, humbleness, knowledge, and most of all determination. She is determined to succeed both for herself and for the people that she serves.

Spending one day alone with Hanaa and then five additional days with her in the company of others, I was able to see another side of her.   I made an extremely conscious effort to be aware from a sensory and visual perspective of all my surroundings when we walked arm in arm together in Washington DC – the first day that I met up with her and the only day that I was with her alone. I am not referring to the obvious need to slowly but promptly highlight any obstacles in the sidewalk. More amazingly, was the connection that I slowly understood between the detailed descriptions of our surroundings that I had never done before (and for sure not adequately as it was my first time) and how Hanaa internalized this information to be the remarkable person that she is. I would be untruthful if I didn’t acknowledge that the interaction was mentally tiring. But the flip side was the exhilaration that I felt after the day was over.

A happenstance meeting between Hanaa Shalata, a blind Arab Israeli, and a blind Palestinian woman from the West Bank at the FDR memorial

A happenstance meeting between Hanaa (right) and Ikhlis (left) — a blind Palestinian woman from Nablus.

We repeated this scenario for the entire time I was with her. It was easier, from a mental point of view, when Hanaa’s close friend Souad arrived late the first night in Washington DC. But the interaction between us continued. We went together to the FDR memorial as she could touch all the sculptures and much of the text was in Braile, in recognition of Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts on behalf of all those with disabilities. Most amazingly, as Hanaa finished reading one of the memorial’s Braille messages, another woman arrived and began reading it as well – a blind Palestinian woman from the West Bank city of Nablus!

At each of her presentations, Hanaa crisply and passionately described her life and her work. The Al-Manal organization she directs works with over one thousand disabled people in the Sakhnin region of the Galilee. Of course, she spoke passionately about the Head to Toe project, the initiative that the Women’s Health Collaborative is funding on increasing self-esteem through an increased understanding of the beauty of each and every human being, and particularly the women working with Hanaa in Al-Manal.

The last day I was with Hanaa and Souad the three of us saw together the sunrise over the Atlantic. With an increased sense of the beauty of each and every sensory experience, I am the lucky one to know Hanaa Shalata and her work with Al-Manal.

Hanaa Shalata at the FDR memorial in Washington reading braille

Hanaa at the FDR memorial in Washington

At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City

Speaking before the Cleveland Jewish Federation about her work with the disabled in Israel

Speaking at the Lion of Judah conference in New York City


At the Museum of Modern Art

All photos courtesy of Ms. Souad Khalifa 

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