By Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
February 16, 2012
Gateways: Access to Jewish Education has been chosen to coordinate and deliver professional development services for six area day schools in a project funded by The Jim Joseph Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation and in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) and Yeshiva University's Institute for University-School Partnership.
"The grant will strengthen access for all learners in area Jewish day schools, hopefully generating a model program for Jewish day school education," says Alan Oliff, CJP's Director of the Initiative for Day School Excellence. "This holistic approach is in line with our commitment to educating the next generation and helping to build strong connections to Jewish life."
Gateways will expand its professional development and training programs to build the capacity of teachers and school leaders so that schools are better equipped to address the needs of students with special learning needs. "This grant will allow Gateways to take its existing professional development program to the next level," says Arlene Remz, Gateways' Executive Director. This new model will enable each school's entire staff to become involved in and responsible for the education of students with a wide range of abilities, making a Jewish day school education accessible to a broader population.
Category: Awards & Recognition
By Glenn Rosenkrantz, for Gateways
February 6, 2012
Newton, MA - Over at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, a group of preschoolers from the Bernice B. Godine JCC Early Learning Center watched Barbara Lischinsky, who is blind, demonstrate how her service dog Ribbon helps her get around.
Meanwhile, at The Boston Jewish Film Festival, six films about people with disabilities are featured in the festival’s REELAbilities series.
And 24/7 on Facebook, close to 1,500 people – and counting – make connections and share ideas on programs and issues related to Jews with special needs.
Seemingly disparate, but all connected by the fact that February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), marked by special events, cultural programs, educational initiatives and advocacy opportunities in and around Boston – and nationally, globally, and online too.
It’s all part of a large-scale and concerted effort to raise the communal consciousness and to support efforts fostering and encouraging inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in all aspects of Jewish community life.
“Families and organizations dedicated to embracing all Jews, no matter what their ability or disability, are driven by this passion every day,” said Arlene Remz, Executive Director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, which works to ensure inclusion of students with special learning needs in Jewish educational settings in the Boston area.
“For one month, JDAM propels our collective mission to the top of the Jewish communal conversation. Our hope is that it fuels attention the rest of the year as well.”
This year is the fourth for JDAM, launched in 2009 as an initiative of the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, a professional network for those, including Gateways, involved in Jewish special education programs.
While it started small, it quickly owned its place on the Jewish communal calendar as major federations, philanthropies, advocacy organizations and others began leveraging JDAM for special programming, outreach efforts and awareness campaigns.
A dedicated page on the website of Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) lists and links to JDAM events and special needs resources in communities across the country, and JewishBoston.com, the website of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) has similar listings for the Boston area. Other national communal organizations have jumped in too.
“Together, we mark Jewish Disability Awareness Month as a major opportunity to raise awareness of this important cause,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA.
Originators of JDAM said they are overwhelmed by the buy-in to the initiative.
“This has ballooned exponentially,” said Shelly Christensen, co-founder of JDAM and program manager for the Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities in Minneapolis.
“Its growth has really highlighted the reality that issues have emerged and are surfacing, and the need for communities to address them and create environments of inclusion for a lifetime.”
While an organization such as Gateways is dedicated to creating opportunities for a Jewish education, other issues are part of the JDAM dialogue as well, including, addressing social needs, offering pathways to employment, providing housing, and opening doors to synagogue life.
“In all of these areas, the Jewish community has an incredible opportunity to engage people,” Christensen said. “The idea that someone is marginalized, and that his or her access to Jewish roots is disrupted, is unacceptable to us as a people.”
Philanthropists too are taking note and are part of the JDAM conversation, indicating that key levels of Jewish leadership recognize the importance of inclusion of Jews with special needs in all realms of the community.
“Our continuity as a people is jeopardized by the fact that so many in our community are shut out from opportunity,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a supporter of Gateways, and an outspoken advocate for Jews with special needs.
“Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month is a time for contemporary Jews to reflect on the inequality that our Jewish brothers and sisters with a disability experience in their daily lives.
“This period involves more than reflection, however. It requires a re-dedication to advancing the cause of Jews with disabilities and fighting for fairness and equality in our schools, places of work, and yes, even in our synagogues.”
For some, the imperative is driven by the simple notion of fairness and Jewish values.
“An overarching Jewish value is that as Jews, we take care of each other,” Remz said. “We all should have equal opportunities to contribute to our community’s growth and vitality.”
Christensen agreed, noting that we all bring various perspectives and passions to Jewish life, and that those with special need cannot be excluded.
“Those with disabilities have talents and skills and they are part of the light,” she said. “If we get them into the classroom, then they should also be in the board room. My hope is that JDAM increases awareness of these issues and weaves them into the consciousness of our communities and organizations.”
By Arlene Remz, Executive Director
February 6, 2012
A few weeks ago, I had the evening news on while preparing dinner, and I perked up when I heard Brian Williams introduce a story about a six-year-old New Jersey boy.
Ryan Langston - blond-haired, wide-eyed, and infectiously energetic – takes time from school and playing with his brother and friends to model the latest kids wear for some of the biggest retailers around, Target and Nordstrom among them.
Whether showing off this season’s bomber jacket, or a new line of hoodies, his good looks, poise and boyishness are striking as he poses with other kids in national ad campaigns.
So what, right?
Well, Ryan has Down syndrome. But glancing at the ads, that fact seems no more noticeable or relevant or important than the girl next to him having black hair, or the boy to the far right being Asian.
The school is one of 13 Jewish day schools in the Boston area at which Gateways supports inclusion of students with special learning needs and ensures that they receive a Jewish education.
Or ten-year-old Mira Weisskopf, a beautiful girl with cerebral palsy who attends Zervas Elementary School in Newton during the week, and a Gateways Jewish education program each Sunday.
Just like Ryan in the ads, each of them is part of the fabric of their schools and communities, adding to the richness and diversity within them, bringing a dose of individual potential to the mix.
Our culture, discourse and sensitivities are driven to a considerably extent by what is reflected in television shows, movies or advertisements.
So it is heartening to me that major companies such as Nordstrom, Target and Proctor and Gamble – all purveyors of the national dialogue through their ad campaigns – have quietly but boldly chosen to include those with special needs.
Gateways believes that only through such exposures will the greater population come to know that these individuals, like all of us, come packaged with strengths and weaknesses, but that we all have our contributions to make and should be allowed the opportunity to offer them.
That brings me to the fact it is February, and that means we are marking Jewish Disability Awareness Month.
One of the operative words here is “awareness,” because as we recognize that all of those among us – like Ryan or Mira or Binny – are part of the collective tapestry, we are obliged to open every avenue for them to reach full potential, whatever that may be.
For the Gateways family, that entails swinging open the gates of Jewish community to our children and youth with special needs, allowing them to become full and participating members of our synagogues and schools, and empowering them to become agents of Jewish continuity.
But it all starts with awareness – of those with special needs and their positive place in the collective whole. And not just this month, while the Jewish community pays special attention and then moves on. No, this is imperative every month.
Now… how I’d love to see Mira or Binny in one of those Target ads.
P.S. Check out Jay Ruderman’s blog Zeh Lezeh. In A Model of Inclusion: Now Put It to Work, guest blogger Jo Ann Simons writes about how her son was featured in a clothing catalog in the 1980’s. She challenges companies to not only photograph people with disabilities, but hire them.
Category: Reflections & Perspectives
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