The financial strain on individuals with disabilities and their families today is not just a matter of dollars and cents; it’s a matter of planning for tomorrow and the long-term future to ensure their independence and inclusion in their community.
At our local middle school, "Communications" is a required course for all seventh graders, including our son, Ben, who has Asperger’s Disorder:
We will explore all the ways human beings communicate with each other, including reading and writing, speaking and listening, as well as non-verbal ways of communicating, such as gestures, visual arts, signs and symbols. We will also work on research, study, and organizational skills, in order to help you better clarify and express your ideas.
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.
Our six year-old has been spending a lot of energy on the concept of “fairness,” as many six year-olds do. To him, fairness is about resources, and he spends his time thinking about what’s fair in terms of his share compared with what is allocated to his younger brother, who is three.
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.
Emily Seelenfreund was diagnosed at birth with a disease that made her vulnerable to broken bones, and was enrolled in physical therapy at 6 months. By the time she was 5, the Hoboken native was outfitted with a wheelchair that helped her get around and was an active competitor in track and field events for the disabled. By the time she was 11, she began playing wheelchair basketball.
Editor's Note: Below, Reform rabbi and social worker Edythe Mencher writes about how shaming Jewish institutions that aren't welcoming enough to people with disabilities can be painful and non-productive in the way that families suffer when rejected by those very institutions. If this subject interests you, please also read Joanna Dreifus' post, "Raised Reform, A Mom Finds Her Kids' Disabilities Give The Lie To Labels."
The New Normal has featured some powerful stories about how children and families with special needs have been treated in a variety of Jewish settings. We all can learn a lot from these, often painful, and sometimes deeply affirming, experiences in Jewish communal settings. At the same time, we need to be cautious about using labels. Whether they identify our disabilities or our Jewish affiliations, labels can easily emphasize differences and failings, rather than unique possibilities.
Tisha b'Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. Our sages explain that the seeds of these tragedies took root during a much earlier event (Talmud Tractate Ta-anit, 29A).
Young Families, Singles Flocking to Upper East Side; ‘The Memory Is In Their Taste Buds’: The Lure of Sephardic Food; Safra Synagogue Rabbi’s Growing Empire; Sephardic And Egalitarian at B’nai Jeshurun; Giving Voice to Sephardic Music.