Hadassa Kessler is the new director of operations and development at Kisharon. Hadassa has worked for Kisharon for 12 years, and in her previous role was principal social worker and day opportunities manager. In this capacity, she was instrumental in developing transition pathways to support person-centred plans for the short and long-term futures of people the charity supports, including accessing Kisharon’s adult and employment services.
Before joining Kisharon, Hadassa worked as a social worker for family and disability charity Oz Child in her native Australia, where she was responsible for researching and coordinating a pilot programme of culturally-appropriate respite services for Vietnamese immigrant families. This helped fuel her passion for affording everyone the same opportunities and helping to fulfil each person’s own aspirations around living a good and healthy life, accessing real employment and meaningful relationships.
What was your path to doing what you do?
I started off studying psychology in university, and I realised that what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to facilitate change for people. Because of this, I swapped to social work. My first job after graduation was with children and young people with disabilities, and I have continued to work in this sector ever since.
Who helped you along the way?
Some time ago, the Care Quality Commission, which regulates care provision in the UK, spoke about ‘the Mum Test’, as a way of ensuring standards that would be good enough for a member of their own families. As I have a close family member who has learning disabilities, this perspective is now my own, and I always think about how to ensure what we offer is as good as we would want it to be for ourselves, or someone we love. At Kisharon, I work with families and individuals and try to see the service from varying perspectives.
What have you learned along the way?
That life is unpredictable! You never know what’s going to happen on any given day at work, and I really enjoy this. I also learn a great deal from people I work with at Kisharon, and have learnt to challenge my own assumptions in many respects.
Tell us an anecdote...
We’d recently travel trained someone at Kisharon, and they set off on a short walking journey alone, which should have taken about 10 minutes. We kept checking at their destination. After 30 minutes there was no sign of them...40 minutes and we really got worried. They turned up eventually but, thrilled at the idea of taking public transport, they had taken two buses instead of walking the short distance. Going on the bus is something we may take for granted, but for this individual it was the start of a new, independent life.
Name a book film boxset or play you found inspiring?
I read a lot and I love to browse shelves and borrow a book or two whenever I’m at Childs Hill Library, which is a partnership library that Kisharon runs for Barnet. I really enjoyed a book called Outwitting History by Aaron Lansky which tells how he rescued a million Yiddish books which would otherwise have been discarded. I don’t speak much Yiddish although I enjoy reading classic stories in translation, and I found Lansky’s story of preserving a disappearing language and its culture very moving. That book sat with me for an extraordinarily long time.
What are you most proud of, professionally?
I am proud to be part of Kisharon’s journey. Kisharon started out as a school for young people, who have grown older at Kisharon, and many of these people are now in our supported living apartments. Kisharon has grown as an organisation and has supported its staff to grow too, with opportunities for professional development. My Kisharon journey began when I took a part-time role as project leader in Kisharon’s business enterprise on Church Road, and I have had several different subsequent roles in enterprises, day services and supported living, working with many wonderful people and making some great friends on the way.
Do you have a plan or ambition for the future?
One of my ambitions is to foster a stronger sense of belonging for people with disabilities within the community. For example, if someone isn’t at shul one week, would anyone think of finding out if they were OK? We are some way there already, and that is a credit to our community.
How do you unwind?
I love to travel and read, and I always feel that Shabbat is a gift. It’s the time I can enjoy my family. We have lots of conversations around the table, play board games and go for walks, and for us, the busier we get, the more important Shabbat becomes.
What hobby would you like to take up if you had the time?
I’ve always wanted to have more time to volunteer. With a full-time job and a young family I am looking for ways to try to do this without taking too much more time away from my family.
If you ruled the world for a day, what would you change?
I’d promote collaborative instead of competitive work everywhere and on every level, as we all have strengths and skills and ways in which we can support each other.
What would you say to someone who has just found out their child has special needs?
“Mazeltov that’s wonderful news.” That’s what I’d say because having a baby always is. I’d add: “Your child will bring you joy, angst, love and sleepless nights but you will meet the most wonderful people in the most unexpected places, and while life will change, and it will feel really tough at times, that’s ok too.”
Who do you most admire and why?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Queen Esther because she is my namesake. I was entranced by the twists and turns of the Purim story as a child and as I become older, appreciated her bravery and how, by speaking out, she championed the future of the Jewish people.
Written by: Hadassa Kessler