In a small community in Pittsburgh, starting in 1910, there was a shift in mindset. The Pittsburgh Blind Association started to teach people with visual impairment how to make brooms, an item found in every home, but rarely given much thought. That year, in Pittsburgh, they thought a lot about brooms and about who would be the best person for the job of broom maker.
Thirteen years ago Temple Beth-El in Somerset County, New Jersey, recognized the need for a special education expert in the religious school and hired me to help build and run a program to meet the needs of children who were not experiencing success in traditional classes. We have developed a multi-layered program with various options and we work to meet every student’s needs. In addition, we strive to ensure that our inclusive practices extend to the synagogue at large. While we have experienced growing pains, especially in our early years, it has been rare for us to be entirely unable meet a family’s needs. The story shared below is only the third time in my tenure that we have had such an experience.
Editor’s Note: In this piece, Matan co-founder Meredith Polsky sings the praises of the inclusive Jewish summer camp where she works – and sends her children – during the summer. A follow-up from a camp administrator will describe the various elements that must be in place to create such a program: culture, funding and a lot of hard work. Stay tuned.
During the summer, I have the great privilege of working at one of the first inclusive Jewish summer camps in the country. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington has been a model of inclusion for over thirty years. Every child is welcome, no matter what the disability. We have campers in wheelchairs, campers with feeding tubes, campers with Down Syndrome and Autism and Rett Syndrome, just to name a few.
The other day, I had a vague sense that I was supposed to be doing something; that I’d forgotten something. I glanced down at my watch: 2:10 p.m., and I panicked. Ben takes his afternoon meds at 2:00 p.m. But I don’t have to give Ben his meds because he is away at camp for the month.
Yesterday marked the official launch of RespectAbility USA, a non-profit organization whose mission is helping the 57 million Americans with disabilities achieve the American dream. In RespectAbility’s version that dream, Americans with disabilities are respected members of the workforce and wield significant political power. The current reality, according to RespectAbility, is that 70 percent of working-aged Americans with disabilities are unemployed.
During my seven summers at Ramah Wisconsin’s Tikvah program, I learned that my bunkmates from other cities struggled to be included with their Jewish peers in their own communities. Many of my disabled peers often had their only Jewish education and Jewish peer interactions during the summer at Ramah, while I felt very fortunate to have had a strong group of Jewish peers and a regular Jewish education at my own synagogue, B’nai Amoona in St. Louis, MO.
Schools, a shul and a bakery won the second annual Ruderman Prize in Disability, which recognizes organizations who foster the inclusion of people with disabilities in their local Jewish community, the Ruderman Family Foundation announced today in a press release.
Editor's note: The author of this post is the cousin of Jennifer Lazslo Mizrahi, a valued supporter of and contributor to The New Normal.
I recently got together with my cousin Jennifer. Even though we live on two sides of the Atlantic (I live in Israel), she does her best to make sure we stay in touch. When we do meet there's always a lot of catching up. Since both of us have children with disabilities, our discussion inevitably revolves around our kids.
Regular readers of this blog know that inclusion is a familiar theme. One of the largest private foundations in the country, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, defines inclusion as people with and without disabilities living together in scattered sites in the community, and people of different income levels to living together—double integration.