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Gateways Publishes First of Its Kind Haggadah

By Rachel Fadlon, Director of Marketing and Communications
January 20, 2015

January 5, 2015 Gateways: Access to Jewish Education teamed up with Behrman House Publishers to publish a haggadah for children with special needs. The haggadah utilizes over 150 picture communication symbols developed by Mayer-Johnson™, the leading creator of symbol-adapted special education materials that assist individuals in overcoming speech, language and learning challenges. 

The haggadah began several years earlier as an in-house learning tool for Gateways’ Sunday Program students. “I created the haggadah to help students at Gateways, who have a range of disabilities, understand and participate in Passover Seders with their families,” explains the book’s author, Rebecca Redner.

 Redner, a curriculum specialist and educator at Gateways was delighted when conversations to publish the book with Behrman House began. “If this haggadah had only been used to enrich the Passover celebrations of our Gateways students and their families, dayeinu, it would have been enough,” says Redner. “But now we have the incredible opportunity to share our haggadah with families and educators everywhere, giving them the chance to make Passover accessible and meaningful for their own children.  It's overwhelming to imagine the impact our haggadah could have on students and their families across the country.”

In addition to picture symbols for blessings and songs, step-by-step photographs are also used to illustrate what to do throughout the Seder. “We were excited to be able to work with a local photographer (Jordyn Rozensky) and use students in our programs for the photos,” says Nancy Mager, Gateways Director of Jewish Education Programs. “We wanted to show children in the photos with and without visible disabilities – just like how any Jewish family might look. We especially wanted to give families who have children with disabilities a haggadah that they felt was a representation of their family.”

Binny, one of the models in the photo shoot, is a student at Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon. A student with down syndrome, Binny receives support from a team comprised of day school staff and Gateways professionals. When asked to be part of the photo shoot for the haggadah, Binny was elated. Recollecting his experience, he says “I didn't really like this, but I had to smell the horseradish.” When asked why he did not enjoy posing for his shot with the horseradish, he explained: “You know, the horseradish is like the saltwater and it reminds us of being a slave.  And it's gross.” The editorial team decided to include a shot in the haggadah of Binny’s reaction to the strong smell – with the assumption that most children could identify with that. 

“Behrman House has published over a dozen haggadahs in the firm’s 95-year history – all of them different, yet this is our first one specifically designed to include children with disabilities,” said David Behrman, President of Behrman House.
“We were delighted when Arlene Remz and the Gateways organization approached us to collaborate with them in publishing The Gateways Haggadah, thus advancing their mission and ours in providing high quality materials for diverse learners to participate meaningfully in Jewish life. ” 

While created with children with special needs in mind, the haggadah is also useful for families with young children. When Gateways students took their haggadahs home for Passover, staff received feedback that the entire families had benefitted from it, from grandparents who never understood the Hebrew words that they had read all their lives, to younger siblings who were still learning how to read. Redner explains “It was designed to be appropriate for students with a wide range of abilities, including students who are not able to read. The photographs and symbols that make the haggadah accessible to students with disabilities also make it appealing for younger pre-readers who are preparing for their first Seders – and for anyone who is not familiar with Hebrew.” The haggadah is also ideal for visual thinkers because the illustrations are just as important as the text.  Every action of the Seder is illustrated with a photograph, and the meaning of each prayer is illuminated with Mayer Johnson Picture Communication symbols.  This combination of photographs and picture symbols engages children, helps them to participate in the Seder, and increases their understanding of what's going on. 

The haggadah also explains the process of the Seder, including tips for children throughout the book.  

The executive director of Gateways, Arlene Remz explains that “just as our organization aims to make Jewish education accessible for all Jewish students, we also wanted to create a haggadah that would make everyone feel like they have a place at the Passover table. The Gateways Haggadah truly is a Seder for the whole family.”  

The haggadah is available to order online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and can be ordered directly from Behrman House at:


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

Category: Awards & Recognition

Tagged under: Slingshot, inclusion