Building a Successful, Community-based Model for Inclusion in Jewish Education

Until the late 1990s, a void existed in the Boston Jewish community for families seeking educational services and supports for children with disabilities. Because of their special learning needs, many students could not successfully access synagogue religious school programming or participate in Jewish day schools. Three programs emerged to serve these students. Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) created and funded the Special Needs Department at the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which focused on providing professional development, advocacy and grants to Jewish congregational and community schools and preschools. At the same time, two grassroots organizations formed: Etgar L’Noar (Etgar), which served students with moderate-to-severe disabilities, and the Jewish Special Education Collaborative (JSEC), which focused on helping students with special learning challenges succeed in day school settings. Etgar launched Sunday Jewish education and B’nei Mitzvah preparation programs and an inclusive youth group (Mitzvah Mensches) and JSEC brought direct support services and professional development to day schools.   

During these early years, the three organizations existed in parallel, each having a meaningful impact for individuals and families. In 2006 the Ruderman Family Foundation introduced a vision to make inclusion in Jewish education a top priority for the Boston Jewish community, and together with CJP, worked to help make this idea a reality. This deeper community commitment to inclusion spurred the boards of Etgar L’Noar and JSEC to merge the two organizations in order to make a broader and more significant community-wide impact.  The Ruderman Family Foundation facilitated the creation of this new entity, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, from funding to strategy to implementation, and the Foundation was actively involved at multiple levels, including serving on Gateways’ governing Board and participating in community events. The Foundation’s commitment and vision were essential in making Gateways the organization it is today.  

The merger enabled Gateways to expand and deepen its mission, programs and services as well as streamline resources, strengthen governance and fiscal oversight, and create new fundraising opportunities. In 2009, when Gateways was firmly established, CJP folded the BJE’s special education services into Gateways, making it the most comprehensive Jewish special educational organization in North America.

Gateways now serves the entire Jewish community: students, families, day schools, congregational schools and preschools and offers professional development to educators and institutions seeking to build more inclusive practices.

The creation of Gateways gave the Boston Jewish community a strong place from which to build the continuum of services needed to ensure that every student has access to a Jewish education and the opportunity to live a meaningful Jewish life. Gateways continues to work to create an ever more welcoming Jewish educational landscape in Greater Boston and beyond.

About Our Founding Organizations

The Jewish Special Education Collaborative (JSEC), created in 1999, was formed to enable children to be educated in Jewish day schools despite learning, physical, behavioral or emotional special needs, which traditionally made dual curriculum schools harder environments in which to succeed. These programs enable children to get the services they need to thrive in the Jewish day school setting – on-track for their future success.

JSEC continues as Gateways Jewish Day School Programs.

Gateways' other partner in formation was Etgar L'Noar, "The Children's Challenge." Founded in 1997 by parents who wanted a Jewish education for their child with multiple disabilities, the program provided a Jewish education for children with moderate to severe disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, hearing and visual impairment, pervasive developmental disorders, and a wide spectrum of other challenges. Few schools in the area were prepared to offer a Jewish education for this very special population.

Etgar L'Noar is now Gateways Jewish Education Programs.

Photo of Executive Director Arlene RemzGateways Founding Executive Director, Arlene Remz, shares more about Gateways' history and importance to the Boston Jewish Community.