In my role as a Jewish educator, I take many students on weekend retreats. Such experiences are a wonderful opportunity for teens to live and learn together as we celebrate Shabbat, socialize, talk and play. At retreats, teens build relationships and their Jewish identities, and such experiences expand exponentially on what we accomplish within the walls of our synagogue. Living together in Jewish time and sharing the joy of Shabbat in a unique setting is an amazing springboard from which we can launch our kids into so many other significant opportunities.
Okay, I know I can be a bit defensive, bristly almost, when it comes to talking about almost anything that I care about. I own that. When it comes to disability and inclusion, I can go a little overboard, but someone’s got to do the dirty work, right?
We have been referred to, and refer to ourselves, as the “People of the Book.” Actually, we seem more to be the people of the question. The Torah is filled with questioners, challengers, activists. The Talmud: more questions, clarifications, debates, arguments over every word, nuance and point.
As concerned as we are about economic justice, the American Jewish community has failed to understand, on a gut level, a glaring reality: adults with disabilities in the U.S. disproportionately experience poverty. According the census bureau, about one in five Americans has a disability. That means twenty percent of us.
About a month ago, The Forward ran the story “Should Every Disabled Child Get a Jewish Education?” which frames the issue as follows: Jewish parents want their kids with learning differences to attend Jewish day schools, but financially strapped Jewish day schools say that they can only go so far in meeting their needs. I, along with others parents of kids excluded from Jewish schools, was interviewed for this piece.
I have a disability (dyslexia) and could not really read or write until I was twelve. I remember vividly how people called me "stupid" and worse. I found my strength in my connection to G-d and the Jewish people. Over time, I learned to adapt and be strong. Judaism and the Jewish people (and my family) gave me that gift.
Last week, the New Normal ran two posts by Rabbi Rebecca Schorr, who is very nervous about the coming summer. Her son Ben, who has Asperger’s, learned recently that his beloved self-contained summer camp, Round Lake, is moving to become part of a campus that contains four other camps. Ben and his buddies will still have their own bunks, but they will spend much of the day in mainstream activities and social settings. Rabbi Schorr concluded that the Jewish community needs both self-contained and integrated summer camps. Now, we’re publishing a Q&A with Shelley Cohen, one of the architects of the change and also a mother of a child with a disability. She spoke with the blog about why Round Lake is making this change and how they determined they are to make it work for Ben and his friends.
Editor's Note: This post is the second of two. In the first part, Rabbi Rebecca Schorr wrote about the long and sometimes painful process of trying to find a summer camp for her son, who has Asperger's. Finally, she and her husband found Round Lake, a Jewish camp that was “self-contained,” meaning it was designed specifically for children with disabilities. But then they found out that Round Lake was moving to another campus. Ben and his buddies will still have their own bunks, but they will spend much of the day in mainstream activities and social settings. Below, in part two of Rabbi Schorr's post, she gathers her thoughts about what is often called the “inclusion debate,” and concludes that it is a false dichotomy.
In a carefully-crafted letter, Round Lake billed the move as a positive change that will allow our kids access the more modern facilities at the Milford location as well as more elective opportunities with assurances that the camp will maintain its identity: “Think of it as everything RLC has always been, plus.”