By Michael Loberfeld
Tzipi Zipper is not only an advocate for people with disabilities. She is also an advocate for tapping into the human spirit and resiliency that is in each of us. She recently spoke at a Federation event, sharing her inspiring story with community members.
Tzipi is a U.S. native who moved to Israel in 2004, at age 15. After completing high school, and then completing her service in a combat role in the Israeli army, she entered private security work at checkpoints at East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Eight months into that position, about eight years ago, she was accidentally hit by a car at a checkpoint.
She thought the injury was minor and that she would be back on her feet and back at her job in a month or two. Instead, her symptoms spread throughout her left leg and were mirrored in her right leg. Her injury caused a massive malfunctioning in the sympathetic nervous system. To this day, from her knees down all she feels is constant chronic pain, and that is why she uses a wheelchair.
But Tzipi would turn her difficulties into advocacy.
“After a year of being absolutely miserable, I decided that it was exhausting, that being upset was draining me, and that I would much rather be happy, because being happy is way more fun, it’s as simple as that,” she said. “It was a conscious and active decision, that I needed to bring positivity back into my life, and bring productivity back into my life.
“Absolutely nothing can define me but myself; no injury, no disability,” Tzipi said. “I realized, only after having a disability become part of my life, just how able I am. I discovered the full extent of my abilities, because of a disability, ironically enough.”
Tzipi is now manager of the peer counseling program at the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Tel Aviv, a program that helped her after her injury, and continues to inspire her today. CIL “believes people are their own best advocates. It doesn’t fight for the individuals, it helps the individuals fight for themselves,” said explained. Peers at CIL are well suited to help clients with special needs work toward their goals and reach their full potential.
In addition, Tzipi is studying law and for a master’s in government at a university in Israel. She has advocated tirelessly to make her university’s campus more accessible to those using wheelchairs. This will benefit all future students as well, she noted.
“Most of the United States is remarkable, it’s one of the best countries in the world when it comes to physical accessibility,” Tzipi said. She advocates for more advancements in Israel regarding physical accessibility. For example, in Israel, buses that run within a city need to be accessible, but there is no law that requires buses that run from one city to another to be accessible.
Accessibility leads to integration, and integration leads to social change, she believes. She also believes that if schools for children were more accessible and integrated, all children would be used to interacting with people with disabilities starting at a young age. This would create greater consciousness towards people with special needs, and therefore create social change.
Ideally, the representation of people with disabilities at places such as schools, universities, and the workplace, should be proportional to their percentage in society at large, she said. “In this age of information, we’re starting to understand what could and should be.”
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest prioritizes promoting meaningful inclusion of people with all types of special needs. For information on initiatives, support groups, and future public programs, visit www.greatermetrowestable.org or contact Rebecca Wanatick, Manager of Community Inclusion, at (973) 929-3129.