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 →
Feb 6 2014
February is officially Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM), and we’re happy to partner again with Matan to run a special series on Kveller to highlight the challenges, successes, and everything in between that comes with raising a child with special needs.
Through advocacy, education, and training opportunities, Matan empowers the Jewish community to include children with special needs.
Finding a school that is a good match for a child with special needs can be a monumental task, so this year, we’ll devote this series to all things education. Let’s talk Hebrew school, day school, early childhood programs, inclusion programs, mainstreaming, and special education. Every Thursday in February, we’ll feature a different voice from the special needs community, so be sure to check back in each week.
We’ll kick things off later today with an account by Benay Josselson, who–despite earlier predictions–successfully mainstreamed her son into a Jewish day school environment, so keep your eyes peeled and stick with us all month.
Jan 21 2014
I had always envisioned my children growing up feeling the sense of “Jewishness” that was so special to me in my own childhood, so we started our son at a Jewish preschool at the age of 2.
But it quickly became clear that he simply couldn’t function in a classroom and was getting nothing out of school. Our journey, which eventually led to an autism spectrum diagnosis, brought with it a roller coaster of emotions and never-ending to-do lists, and dealing with all of that required me to push aside my disappointment about giving up his Jewish preschool. It had become obvious that we had to send him to a special education program to provide the hours of intensive therapy he needed. So without so much as a glance back we forged ahead on this path, and amazingly after two years he had progressed so far that he was almost unrecognizable from the 2-year-old he was before it all started.
We found ourselves at the beginning of this current school year, his last year of preschool, with some decisions to make. The special education preschool program in our new school district, as remarkable as it is, did not provide enough hours of school for him with only four short afternoons a week. We knew we should consider a mainstream preschool as a supplement to his special needs program. He would benefit socially from being around “typical” peers, but we couldn’t help but wonder if he was really ready for it. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 18 2013
Last weekend, I took my three kids, ages 14, 10, and almost 7, to a performance of African acrobats. It’s a terrific show, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the NYC area before January 5th. It’s totally not Mother Africa’s fault that, in the middle of it, I was thrown into an existential crises (I am prone to those).
Here’s the thing: I am a Soviet-born Jew. My husband is African-American. Our kids are Jewish African-Americans who sometimes speak Russian. At our house, I’m in charge of the Jewish and Russian part, and my husband is in charge of the African-American part. So you’d think we’d have everything covered.
I thought we had everything covered.
Until I sat in a theater on 42nd Street watching a troupe of amazing acrobats and it occurred to me that my kids know nothing about their African heritage.
Not their African-American heritage; their African one. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 12 2013
The Northern California air is crisp and biting as I unbuckle my son from his car seat and slide his arms into his Spiderman sweatshirt.
“Stand right here by me and don’t move,” I warn him, reaching back in to hoist the baby’s car seat up into the air. I keep one hand on Max as the other clicks the baby seat into the stroller. Lunchbox. Water bottle. Mitzvah Star. Five dollars for challah. Baby’s blanket is on. Where is his hat?
“Stay right here, Max, there are too many cars in this parking lot. Wait for Mommy. Hold on to Bennie’s stroller please.” A wadded up diaper rolls out of the passenger seat as I grab my diaper bag. I stuff it back in before anyone notices.
“Good morning, Simon Family! Hi Max! Or should I call you Spiderman? That’s a pretty cool sweatshirt you’ve got on!”
He beams. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 10 2013
I felt positively Goldilocks-like as I made the rounds at open houses of prospective Jewish day schools for my 4-year-old son.
“This school is too big,” I said as I surveyed the hordes of parents spilling out of the auditorium.
“This school is too small,” I frowned at the empty seats and scant class size.
“This school is too rich,” I sighed as I took note of Gucci handbags and snippets of conversations concerning travel plans for St. Maarten.
Somehow, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have become unwillingly embroiled in the massive wave of hysteria that sweeps the parents in my community when faced with the big day school decision. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 23 2013
The majority of you will be startled and sickened when you watch this video. Some may nervously laugh (like me), as a reaction to what at first can be perceived as pure ignorance; but as author/director/educator Rhonda Fink-Whitman suggests, insensitivity itself isn’t to blame. The intro is a bit long, so if you are in a crunch for time, fast forward to 1:58 seconds.
Whitman, author of 94 Maidens, a Holocaust story inspired by true events (her mother was a Holocaust survivor) interviews Pennslyvania public school graduates on their basic knowledge of the Holocaust. I mean basic:
“What is the Holocaust?”
“Where did the Holocaust happen?” Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 30 2013
When my husband and I moved our family from Brooklyn to the wilds of the Long Island suburbs eight months ago, our chief concern was securing great childcare for our twin toddlers. In Brooklyn, from the time they were 3 months old, Avi and Maya had been cared for part-time by Charlotte, a superhero dressed as a 25-year-old aspiring opera singer. Charlotte (Sha-Sha, to everyone in our family who loved her, which was everyone) could do anything our two babies needed, including arrive at our apartment at 8 a.m. so that I could hop the subway to Manhattan while the girls splatter-painted the walls with oatmeal. Charlotte glided into our lives and made it infinitely better. Alas, Sha-Sha wasn’t interested in moving to the ‘burbs with us. Go figure.
And so, when we landed on the (north) shores of this island, we weighed our options. I would still be working part-time, but really, it was more like three quarters when you considered the longer commute. We didn’t know many people in our new town and worried that a nanny wouldn’t have much to do with the girls, what with the whole everyone-needs-a-car-to-get-anywhere culture. We didn’t like the idea of the girls sitting in the house all day. In addition, at 18 months, Avi and Maya were starting to pick things up, and it seemed like they might just benefit from being in a Jewish environment. Read the rest of this entry →
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 →