Feb 20 2014
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Lisa Friedman, a Jewish Special educator and advocate for inclusion, shares her guiding principals for creating a learning environment that is accessible to all students.
In my role as an Education Director of a synagogue’s Hebrew school, I have the good fortune to be able to use my skills to develop programs that enable students of all abilities to learn and thrive in a religious school setting. As an advocate of inclusion, I help guide my community to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate and find meaning through all aspects of synagogue life. Yet, not all synagogues have a Jewish Special Educator. Not all synagogues have a professional who advocates for inclusion. What can parents of children with disabilities do to ensure that their children are fully included in Hebrew school?
First and foremost, open and supportive communication is essential for a successful Jewish Hebrew school experience for any child, but especially those with special learning needs. Be forthcoming about your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Do not assume that the school will turn you away or will not be able to accommodate your child’s needs. Share your child’s IEP, successful strategies from home and other information that will make it easier for your child to be successful. I am not suggesting that this is a magic bullet. There may be bumps and disappointments along the way. But without the willingness to have the conversations, you will never know what is possible. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 10 2013
While browsing through old college journals, I recently caught a glimpse of a younger, happier, more confident woman. The bubbly writing belonged to an idealist who hitchhiked around the Middle East, worked at archaeological sites, and attended graduate school overseas.
Today, our children are my greatest joy, but the past few years of struggling with my husband and the divorce process are taking a heavy toll. I do not want my self-esteem to be contingent on my past accomplishments, nor do I want my happiest memories to be of previous decades.
I am proud of myself for getting out of an unhealthy relationship. Nowadays I am plunging the toilet myself, installing batteries and removing bugs and trash from the house. I am raising three very young children, working a full-time job, and teaching on Saturdays to stay afloat, all while far from extended family. I am persevering and finding inspiration and assistance where I can. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 19 2013
Last month, at the very last minute, I finally sent off my children’s application to our synagogue’s Hebrew school. For the second time.
Three years ago when it was time to sign up our oldest daughter for Hebrew school, I eagerly filled out the paperwork. My husband and I love our funky, spirited, and opinionated Reconstructionist synagogue, and I thought I found a community that would provide a Jewish connection and community for the entire family. Let the Jewish learning begin! They were starting a new family-based, Shabbat-based Hebrew school program. We would be in on the ground floor, as they say, and start my daughter off on an amazing journey of Jewish learning.
But it did not quite work out that way. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 30 2013
I read Jordana Horn’s piece in the Jewish Daily Forward about “Jewish Homeschooling” as an alternative to Jewish Day School with great interest. In it, Jordana states, “I’m not against day school, per se. I just don’t think that day school is essential in order to raise children who are Jewish and proud to be Jewish.”
Of course she’s right. Committed parents don’t need day school to make Judaism a joyful and central part of family life, as Jordana suggests in her piece. She also briefly acknowledges that parents who don’t feel Jewishly educated enough can avail themselves of books, online resources, and synagogue communities.
This is where things get a little tricky for me. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 24 2013
My oldest son graduated from the 8th grade last week. His father and I picked this particular school for its academic rigor. By the time his nine years there were up, my son had visited England, passed Algebra 2, read Virgil (in Latin), played Katherine in a full staging of Shakespeare’s Henry V, and drawn a map of Europe freehand, including mountain ranges and bodies of water, with only the latitude and longitude as guidelines.
We were ecstatic about his education and how well it prepared him for the future.
Though the school is ostensibly non-denominational, their crest does feature a cross. When my son inquired about it, he was informed that the cross represents all religions. (He thus proceeded to refer to it as The Cross of All Religions for the past several years. It was funny the first time. Not so much the 74th.) Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 9 2013
So I totally get that sitting around with friends bashing your collective Hebrew school experience from the 80s is pretty much a national Jewish sport, and that we’re all so “traumatized” and “tortured” by the years spent in the cantor’s office memorizing our haftarah portions while wondering when his shiny black hair piece was finally going to fall off that now we’re all refusing to send our own kids to Hebrew school, complaining that it’s a waste of time and they’re not going to learn anything anyway.
But I’m here to tell you that sending my kids to Sunday morning religious school at our local Los Angeles area synagogue is quite possibly the best thing to happen to me post-childbirth since the prescription for Percoset that I got following my two emergency C-sections. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 13 2013
Jewish day school. Photo credit: Clive Moss
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Benay shares her hopes and concerns about her son’s future Jewish education.
I watch my 5-year-old at Jr. Congregation on Shabbat, and I am amazed. Here, in a small room with children, songs, and a teacher he knows and loves, he is comfortable and in his element. He participates, and more than that, he wants to be a leader, a teacher, and a student. He runs onto the bimah in the sanctuary for Adon Olam, and he thinks he’s leading the congregation.
Witnessing my son’s emphatic participation is huge. He was first diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum at 2 years old. Thanks to my husband and sisters, who insisted he be evaluated on the early side, he has benefited from four years of intensive therapy with dedicated and talented therapists and teachers and has made astounding strides. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 6 2013
When your child has special learning needs–or any kind of physical, emotional, or behavioral challenge that impacts learning–finding a suitable religious education can be a challenge.
For the 85% of us who look towards an afternoon or Sunday Hebrew School, particular challenges may arise. First of all, show us a child for whom 4:00 p.m.–after a full day of a structured secular school environment–is an optimum time for learning, and we’ll show you a dozen more for whom it’s not. At 4:00 p.m., most children exhibit some type of “special learning need.” For those with an actual diagnosis, though, these tips may come in especially handy: Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 19 2012
It’s my son’s big bar mitzvah year… but Miles is a different kind of bar mitzvah boy.
Miles is a child with ADHD. You might be thinking, ahhh, another parent that says their child is ADHD. Why don’t we just add it to the list, right? That’s what we thought. We thought to ourselves it’s just a label. It’s a teacher telling us something is wrong with him just to label him because he’s wiggly, obstinate, and uncooperative at times. Well, you’re wrong. It’s real and it’s here and it’s a huge part of our life.
My husband and I were both brought up Jewish. We both went to Hebrew school. He, conservative. Me, reform. We always had the view that Miles would go to Sunday school and Hebrew school just like we did. Why wouldn’t he, right? Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 27 2012
Though I want my kids to learn ancient texts, I don't want the learning to feel boring and antiquated.
Flashback to 2008: It is Friday night. My husband and I, along with one hundred parents of small children, are packed in like sardines for Tot Shabbat. Children run the aisles. I find myself feeling obligated and uncomfortable. After, we attend a kosher dinner in which we sit with three couples who already know each other and spend the dinner comparing diamonds, cars, and private school educations.
This would never be my synagogue. My kid will not go to Hebrew school here. What happened to the Reform synagogues of yesteryear? I want my rabbi bearded, wearing a tie-dye tallit, and playing guitar. I want my son to grow up to be a thoughtful, spiritual, civic-minded, Jewish man. How will he get to these milestones if I don’t start educating him now? Read the rest of this entry →