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A Place for Julia

By Rachel Fadlon, Director of Marketing and Communications
December 15, 2014

 

'Why couldn't our own tribe - our own people - offer something for our child?"

Michelle and Ron Herzlinger

“Our four year-old daughter Julia was attending a Jewish Day School in New York City with her brothers when her world crashed," relates Michelle Herzlinger. "Julia started what would become a journey into the frightening world of epilepsy. So many dreams we had for her vanished in a moment, including attending a Jewish Day School. There was no Jewish place for Julia in New York City, not during school hours - or after.”

After many years of struggling to find the right school for Julia in New York, the Herzlingers relocated to Newton so that Julia could attend the Ward School. They enrolled their two older sons in a Jewish day school. While they were delighted with Julia’s new school, they were heartbroken that there still wasn’t a Jewish option for her. Little did they know that they were about to discover Gateways, which prides itself on supporting every child who wishes to receive a Jewish education.

Following a tip from a former Ward parent – who was also a parent of a Gateways student and three teen volunteers – Michelle visited the Sunday Program and quickly enrolled Julia.

“From the first day that Julia walked in to the Gateways Sunday Program, our broken dream was repaired. She now has her own place in the Jewish community, where she is truly honored and respected. Thanks to Gateways, our dream of a Jewish education for our daughter Julia has become a reality.”

Julia is currently enrolled in her second year in Gateways’ Sunday Program and will begin planning for her Bat Mitzvah in a few short years. The Herzlingers look forward to celebrating this upcoming simcha thanks to the support of their Gateways family.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

New Social-Emotional Curriculum in Jewish Preschools, Day Schools

By Rachel Fadlon, Director of Marketing and Communications
July 25, 2014

Children at Alef-Bet Childcare in Cambridge learn about “Turtle Time”, where they pretend to go into their shells and take a break to self-regulate.Recently, there have been a multitude of articles in the media discussing what it takes to get a job at Google and other cutting-edge, future-minded companies. One of the qualities that comes up again and again is the ability to collaborate – to work in a team. In addition, with the ease of availability of information today, companies are less interested in what people know, and more interested in what we are able to do with that knowledge. This new focus has led to the creation of new initiatives in schools to help students prepare themselves for this new reality.

Jewish institutions of learning are no exception. With a generous grant from the Lebovitz Family Charitable Trust and allocation funds from CJP, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education teamed up with the Social Thinking Boston office to introduce a new curriculum this past year called Social Thinking©. Together, they trained educators from 16 area Jewish preschools (with one more joining this year) and 3 day schools (with 2 more joining this year) to help develop the social-emotional health and wellbeing of their students.

“We were excited about the opportunity to partner with Social Thinking Boston to bring their curriculum to Jewish preschools and day schools,” says Sharon Goldstein, Director of the Day School Program at Gateways. “In our role as the Jewish central agency for special education in Boston, we have a unique vantage point from which we are able to see themes and trends across the Jewish day schools in our area. Challenging social dynamics (including bullying) is a national concern - and is also prevalent within the Jewish day schools. We are seeing more and more students lacking appropriate social skills who do not have the self-awareness or possess the strategies to navigate social situations. Many day school teachers have shared that they are not equipped with language and strategies necessary to support their students with these challenges and, therefore, are unable to intervene effectively in the moment.”

As defined on their website, social thinking is “what we do when we interact with people: we think about them... Most of us have developed our communications sense from birth onwards, steadily observing and acquiring social information and learning how to respond to people. Because social thinking is an intuitive process, we usually take it for granted. But for many individuals, this process is anything but natural. And this often has nothing to do with conventional measures of intelligence. In fact, many people score high on IQ and standardized tests, yet do not intuitively learn the nuances of social communication and interaction. Social Thinking…offers a range of strategies that address individual strengths and weaknesses in processing social information.”

In addition to helping to prepare students for future jobs, Jewish educational institutions also have a moral imperative for introducing this curriculum. Goldstein says that “Jewish preschools and day schools want to instill a sense of Jewish morals and values in their students. Being a mensch (a kind, caring person to others) is a concept that is introduced from an early age. In addition to preparing students for successful careers, Social Thinking also helps reinforce these Jewish values.”

“Jewish schools also define derech eretz as a value,” adds Sherry Grossman, Director of Community Services at Gateways. “The idea behind Social Thinking is to explicitly teach what that means – just like we teach math and science. With an increasing expectation of adults to collaborate, there is less tolerance for rigidity in thinking. This means that educators must teach complex social skills if they want their students to succeed in life – and be good Jews, and human beings!”

“Jewish values are very much in line with what is now being called social-emotional learning,” explains Nancy Tarshis, MA, MS, CCC-SLP, a trainer at Social Thinking. “Social thinking teaches the thought process behind social skills which is the outgrowth of social emotional learning core principles. The Social Thinking vocabulary breaks down and concretizes the concepts and attendant thought processes underlying these skills for all students but most especially for our students with social cognitive learning challenges.”

“At all grade levels, Social Thinking teaches self-awareness,” says Grossman. “When you combine the core concepts, they provide you with skills that you can use throughout your life.” The curriculum gives teachers and students a common language for encouraging self-regulation and the idea that what you

 say, how you say it and what you do affect how people perceive and respond to you.

Core concepts focus on self-regulation, impulse control, problem solving, realistic views, perspective-taking and positive self-esteem. These concepts are explored and taught in developmentally appropriate ways at each grade level. In the preschool classes, lessons

 focus on being part of a group and following a “group plan”. In early elementary school, students learn about thinking flexibly, not letting intrusive thoughts get in the way of social interactions and getting along with peers and adults. From the 4th grade on, lessons are about perspective taking as it relates to peers and adults and classroom materials (like understanding characters in stories).

Response to the curriculum has been positive from both staff and students. Barbara Davis, director of Temple Beth Sholom’s preschool in Framingham, reported that her students have begun to use language from Social Thinking in their interactions with their

 peers. “During one student’s play this year, we consistently heard about the “group plan” or the “me plan”. One day, he was very frustrated with another child and said very loudly, “It is time to take your body out of the group!””

Dina Feldman, Director of Student Achievement at Torah Academy in Brookline responded enthusiastically about the program: “Both our teachers and students alike have benefited outstandingly from the Social Thinking curriculum. We found that the students naturally respond to the curriculum's clear and exciting language just as easily as the teachers learn to apply it. We are so thankful to Gateways and Social Thinking Boston for including Torah Academy in the pilot program this past year.”consistently heard about the “group plan” or the “me plan”. One day, he was very frustrated with another child and said very loudly, “It is time to take your body out of the group!””

Gateways and Social Thinking Boston plan to work together to infuse the curriculum with Jewish values and expand the program to include more Jewish educational institutions throughout Greater Boston and beyond.Students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston (Newton) practice using “Turtle Time”, a tool to take a break and calm down.

 

Inclusion For All

By by Arlene Remz, Executive Director
February 26, 2014

 

This month is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Coincidentally, our organization Gateways is marking a major milestone – our 54th b’nei mitzvah celebration. What is the connection between the two? Our B’nei Mitzvah Program is for students with disabilities, students who even a decade ago, may not have been able to have meaningful ceremonies to mark this major Jewish milestone. I have witnessed incredibly moving ceremonies from students with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism.

Our B’nei Mitzvah program should not be viewed as an anomaly – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. About 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) alone. I am certain that everyone reading this knows at least one person with an identified disability of some sort, and probably more.

The subject of Jewish Peoplehood has been on everyone’s minds since the publication of the Pew Report. With the numbers of Jews identifying with denominations declining, we need to widen our circle and find new, innovative ways to reach an ever-growing, unaffiliated population. One way to  reach more Jews is for organizations to be more inclusive in general. Specifically, organizations need to be aware of and cater to the large number of children and adults with disabilities. If 1 in 6 children has some sort of disability, how can we not address this issue and do our best to reach these children in our synagogues, Hebrew schools and day schools? If we lose these children, we will also lose their families, and how can we afford to lose Jewish families who want their children to be engaged members of our community? 

The tagline for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month is “from awareness to inclusion”. I am certain that we are all aware of Jews in our community who have disabilities. But awareness goes beyond this – have you asked questions to understand the disability? Have you included the person’s family in the conversation? Have you tried to understand how this disability affects the person’s participation in Jewish life?

Educating yourself about members of your community with disabilities is an important first step and will most certainly make those people feel valued. But it is what you do with the information that you have learned that is vital. How can you include these people and their families successfully in your community? Are there things that you can do within your community to be more open and welcoming? What local organizations can help make this happen? Are their grants available to make your facilities more accessible and train your staff to accommodate your members with special needs? Do you feel that another organization may better be able to accommodate someone in your community? We are fortunate to be part of a larger community in Greater Boston with a multitude of services available for children and adults with disabilities in multiple settings.

What is remarkable is that not a day, but an entire month is devoted to raising awareness around disabilities and making change in the community. As it is stated in Leviticus 19:14: “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy G-d: I am the LORD”.  We have an obligation to make it possible to include all Jews in our community.  Let this month be a time of reflection and serve as a call to action. 

 

 

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: disabilities, JDAM, inclusion, Jewish Advocate

 

8 Local Organizations Recognized in National Slingshot Guide

By Rachel Fadlon, Director, Marketing and Communications, Gateways
November 6, 2013

 On Thursday, October 24, Jewish organizations across North America were holding their breath to see who would be named in this year’s Slingshot Guide, the foremost resource of today’s most groundbreaking organizations, projects and programs of the North American Jewish community. From over 200 applications, evaluators chose 50 organizations - and highlighted another 17 as Standard Bearers - who they believed would drive the future of Jewish life and engagement. 18 organizations were featured in each of two new supplements - Disabilities & Inclusion and Women & Girls - in order to recognize novel ways that Jewish organizations support specific populations.

A small group from the 83 evaluators reviewed each nominee against four criteria: innovation, impact, strong leadership and organizational effectiveness. As it turns out, 8 organizations in Greater Boston had what it takes to be listed in some part of the guide. Out of the 17 organizations selected to be Standard Bearers, 4 hail from Greater Boston: Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, InterfaithFamily, Keshet, and Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center.

Four more innovative Jewish organizations in the Boston area were selected for the first time. The David Project and JOIN for Justice were both listed in the guide. The Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston’s JCC Camp Kingswood Zohar Program was recognized in the Disability & Inclusion supplement; the Jewish Women’s Archive was recognized in the Women & Girls supplement.

“The Slingshot Guide is an essential resource for putting a national spotlight on inspiring work happening in local communities across North America,” explains Julie Finkelstein, Program Director at Slingshot. “Highlighting organizations throughout the Boston area is a testament to the community’s commitment to building and sustaining engaging, relevant and impactful Jewish opportunities. With Slingshot, our national network of doers and donors learn about Boston’s inspiring stories, and Bostonians of all ages are introduced to some of the most innovative Jewish opportunities happening in their own backyards.  Slingshot is proud to partner with CJP and many area organizations and foundations to support Boston’s successful drive towards Jewish innovation.”

The David Project helps college students use their own voices, points of view and experiences to positively shape campus opinion on Israel. Slingshot evaluators were excited about the David Project’s “willingness to take risks in service to its cause, and praise the organization’s use of thoughtful measurement tools to assess the future efficacy of those risks.”

Gateways: Access to Jewish Education is the central agency for special needs programs and services for students across Jewish educational organizations and denominations in Greater Boston. Slingshot noted that “through training for educators and consultations with organizations wishing to better include learners with disabilities, its multifaceted approach fills a critical void in Jewish education.” In addition to being a Standard Bearer, Gateways is also featured in the Disabilities and Inclusion supplement.

InterfaithFamily offers online educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and an InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area. Slingshot notes that “as the number of intermarried families in American continues to grow, InterfaithFamily leads the conversation and demands a place for interfaith families in Jewish communal life.”

JCC Camp Kingswood Zohar Special Needs Program is proud to provide camping programs that empower children of all abilities to develop self-confidence, self-esteem, independence, skills and lifelong friendships all while strengthening their Jewish identities. One evaluator shares, “The ability to find an appropriate and caring summer camp experience for children with disabilities throughout their teens and beyond will have a great impact on helping these young people feel connected to the Jewish community.”

The Jewish Women’s Archive is an online presence with virtual exhibits, oral history projects, an encyclopedia of over 2,000 articles, and engaging blog content, all aimed at preserving the legacy of both well- and lesser-known American Jewish women. “Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) stands alone in pushing forward an agenda of inclusion of women in Jewish history,” wrote one Slingshot evaluator.

JOIN for Justice strengthens the community organizing practice of Jewish leaders, ensuring that Jewish communities play a powerful role in North American social justice struggles. Evaluators were impressed with JOIN for Justice’s “success in building meaningful partnerships that result in generating change throughout the Jewish community.”

Keshet works towards the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) Jews in all areas of Jewish life. “In its 17 years of operation,” says Slingshot, “Keshet has built and led the field of Jewish LGBTQ inclusion. Over and over again, Keshet has proven its ability to adapt its work to the needs of the community.”

Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Education Center is a beautiful and radically inclusive mikveh (ritual bath) and education center for healing, celebrations, life transitions and conversion to Judaism. Mayyim Hayyim is the only organization in the guide that is recognized in both supplements and as a Standard Bearer.

Boston has long been thought of as a city of innovation. Recognition in the Slingshot Guide by so many of its nonprofit organizations is just another confirmation of this.

For more detailed information about the organizations in the Slingshot Guide 2013-2014, visit www.slingshotfund.org

Category: Awards & Recognition

Tagged under: Slingshot, inclusion

 

Jamie's Bat Mitzvah - A Different Voice

By Rachel Fadlon, Director, Marketing and Communications
October 2, 2013

 

Rabbi Keith Stern: What does being a bat mitzvah mean to you?

Jamie: It means that I know a lot about being Jewish. 

Rabbi: What have you done to get ready for your bat mitzvah? 

Jamie: I practiced saying prayers, learned about my Torah portion, went to Gateways, met with the Rabbi, and did a mitzvah project.  

While this may sound like a typical exchange between a rabbi and his pre-bat mitzvah congregant, it is in fact so much more. Jamie Davidge, 13, has cerebral palsy and this conversation consisted of her rabbi asking her questions out loud and Jamie selecting her answers from her augmentative communication device (a computer that speaks for her) that she uses to communicate. 

Jamie’s becoming a bat mitzvah marks the culmination of a journey for the Davidge family, who had to pursue a long and winding path to get to this day. Families of typical Jewish children either enroll them in their congregation’s religious school or send them to day school to receive a Jewish education. They hire a tutor and meet with their clergy to prepare for b’nei mitzvah using the blueprint laid out by their congregation. This system works for most families. But for families with children with more severe needs, the idea of being able to prepare their children for a meaningful ceremony oftentimes seems unrealistic or unattainable. 

Jamie is just one example of how the Greater Boston Jewish community has made an effort to embrace all its community members. In her conversation with her rabbi, Jamie mentioned Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the local central agency for making Jewish education accessible to all Jewish students. Her journey began when her parents learned about Gateways’ Sunday Program which is a self-contained religious school for children who need a more intimate learning environment and are unable to thrive in the synagogue religious school setting. There, Jamie attended classes and was assisted by a one-on-one aide. As she grew to pre-bat mitzvah age, she joined the B’nei Mitzvah Program on Wednesday evenings, where she was part of a small class and worked one-on-one with a Gateways tutor. 

Gateways provided Jamie and her family with a structured program where she received individualized support and differentiated instruction. She was also lucky that Gateways received funding from the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund, enabling her teachers to create a Special Path to Bat Mitzvah, a girl-centric curriculum focused on highlighting strong Jewish women (including women with disabilities) and the contributions they have made. “Jamie was really the impetus that prompted us to apply for the grant,” says Nancy Mager, Director of Gateways’ Jewish Education Programs. “Having her in our program challenged us to identify the unique needs of girls with special needs. We wanted to make accessible to our girls the best of what is out there for typical bat mitzvah aged girls.” 

Although Jamie did not participate in Temple Beth Avodah in Newton’s religious school, she and her family remained connected with the congregation through the process. She submitted a profile to the temple newsletter (like all b’nei mitzvah in the congregation are expected to do), sharing news about her bat mitzvah. 

“Rabbi Keith Stern was an incredible, supportive partner in the process,” recalls Mager. “In our initial meeting [about Jamie’s bat mitzvah], he made it clear that it was important to the synagogue that Jamie felt at home and was celebrated for who she is and what she knows. Her disability was always secondary.” 

“Jamie has been a member of Temple Beth Avodah since she was a baby,” says Rabbi Stern.  “As she has grown up, I have been endlessly amazed by her tenacity and the dedication of her parents. Her excitement over her Bat Mitzvah was positively electric! She showed this with an extraordinary smile and, after every completed prayer, a “Yesher Koach!” straight from her sound board.” 

Understanding and respecting that Jamie’s ceremony would look different than a typical service, Rabbi Stern and the temple staff worked with Gateways’ staff and Jamie’s family to create a ceremony that would enable Jamie to participate meaningfully. This meant restructuring the typical service to include everything she had learned, but in a shorter length of time so Jamie wouldn’t become fatigued; relocating from the large sanctuary to a space that was less intimidating; and using Gateways materials to aid in creating a meaningful dvar Torah.  

“Since Jamie cannot say the prayers herself, instead of using the preset voice of her device, we recorded her sister Anna reciting them,” explains Rebecca Redner, Jamie’s teacher at Gateways. “We recorded Anna at the Davidge’s home with Jamie sitting and listening and grinning the whole time. After each prayer was recorded, Jamie insisted on trying it out. She was delighted with our decision to use her sister’s voice.” 

When asked how she felt when she first learned that she was going to have a bat mitzvah, Jamie said “Confused”. When asked later, she answered “Excited and nervous”.  When her rabbi asked her how she thought she would do on the day of her bat mitzvah, she said “Great!” 

Redner is not surprised. “I always knew how intelligent Jamie was. She was really the one to push us [Gateways] to create a ceremony that showcased her knowledge and passion,” says Redner. “This is a girl who clearly loves praying and being Jewish, and I am so proud that we could help her learn to her greatest potential and enable her to share it with the community.”   

“I am truly awed by Jamie and the effort she expends to express herself,” says Rabbi Stern. “Her siblings and her parents are remarkable people who deserve halos if Jews ever start giving them out. And I am deeply thankful and proud that Jamie knows that she is a part of a congregational family – a place where she was, and will always be, welcomed.” 

Category: Profiles

Tagged under: bat mitzvah, b'nei mitzvah, Davidge, Rebecca Redner, Dynavox