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Nalagaa’t: food for thought
Israelis are renowned for thinking outside the box. In 2002, Adina Tal was approached by a group of deaf and blind people to create a drama class. Though Ms Tal had never done anything like this before, she decided to forge ahead, to see where this unique social experiment would take everyone.
Within a span of five years, the Nalaga'at drama group morphed into a theatre ensemble for deaf and blind people, along with two themed restaurants - Café Kapish, which features deaf waiters and Blackout, where blind people serve customers in darkness.
"What started as a drama class marked the beginning of a revolution. These deaf-blind individuals, who, all their life, had been dependent on society and assisted, were all of a sudden in an entirely different situation. Standing on the stage, they were no longer 'the poor ones', requesting commiseration, but those who were in the position to give, offering their audience the gift of art," says Ms Tal.
The entire operation, including the theatre and restaurants, resides in a former dilapidated warehouse in Jaffa, which was renovated from top to bottom and opened to the public in December 2007.
Nalagaa't is perhaps Israel's most unusual start-up, as it relies on the human spirit to create a profitable bottom line, rather than a high-tech innovation. It is also a showcase of peaceful co-existence between Jews, Christians and Muslims, who are employed in capacities from performers to waiters.
According to Alon Levi, the CEO of Nalaga'at, there are 148 employees, 85 of whom are either deaf or blind.
"Those who work in the theatre group go through a two-year training process, as Nalaga'at has not one but two theatre groups, including a new group that will be performing special shows for children in the near future," says Levi. "There are two guiding principles or messages that the people of Nalaga'at wish to convey to our theatre audiences and restaurant guests alike. Within the realm of the theatre group, it is important for audiences to be able to communicate with people with disabilities within a professional atmosphere.
"The themed restaurants not only highlight the fact that we are giving work to disabled people, but also that disabled people also have the right to give to society and not be dependent upon society.
"We know that these messages do have an effect, because when people leave the theatre or the Blackout restaurant, where diners are served in complete darkness and must rely on the waiters, we can see people expressing their emotions based on the experiences they have just encountered."