Yaacov Ratzabi“One out of every hundred children is born mentally retarded to some degree,” says AKIM Israel, the National Association for the Habilitation of the Mentally Handicapped. Most of us hear about these people only in the occasional heartbreaking story published in the newspapers in the holiday seasons. These stories reveal a life-long struggle for normality and healthy interaction with society, not only of the disabled themselves but also of their close family and friends. We usually sigh in sympathy and turn the page, after all – there’s nothing we can do to help.

The awareness is heightened to this usually marginalized issue, as Israeli celebrities join this Yom Kippur to the search for the lost mentally handicapped patient Yaacov Ratzabi, who disappeared 5 weeks ago in Tel Aviv. Since then his picture has been forwarded in personal mailing lists and posted all over the streets in hope that someone recognizes him and helps him get back to his hostel – all to no avail, as of yet. Tel Avivis, keep your eyes open.

On the same subject, you may not know this: there are quite a few local companies that help these people lead a rather normal life, by hiring them and thus allowing them to contribute to society and earn their own money. Organizations that make this possible are, among others, Enosh (people suffering from mental illness), ILAN (handicapped children), EFI (Asperger patients).

One company that really got my attention once, when I was looking for a nice, original gift, was the company Zer Matok (“sweet bouquet”), which manufactures bouquets made of chocolate and candies, and employs mentally handicapped people. A great idea, such a good cause, and – who doesn’t like chocolate?