March 8, 2011
When she was a new bride, Michelle Alkon had a dream: celebrating Shabbat with her husband and their future children, complete with candles, challah and wine. But things didn't turn out as Alkon had envisioned. On Friday nights, her son, who is on the autism spectrum, would sing Happy Birthday, blow out the Shabbat candles and run off with the challah. "Pretty soon I decided a family Shabbat was just another dream I had to give up," she says.
But her son's Gateways experience gave the Newton family their Shabbat back. Seeing her son in his class reciting the blessing over the candles, Alkon realized that he could do this at home too. "I dusted off my candles and tried again," she says. "This time it meant something to him – and it worked." Cindy Kaplan has also seen the impact of her daughter's Sunday morning Gateways class at their Shabbat table. "She beams when we sing Bim Bam as we welcome Shabbat into our home," says Kaplan. "She bounces with joy as we sing the blessings and she takes pride in her role of removing the challah cover."
The value of a child with special needs making Shabbat their own is also brought home for Laurie Gershkowitz each time her son pores over his Shabbat book – a project Gateways Sunday school students created as part of his class' Shabbat unit. "The book is something he can hold in his hands, a real connection to all the Shabbat symbols, blessings and the music he loves," she says. "It reinforces what he's learning and makes Shabbat his own."
Creating their own Shabbat book is just one way Gateways educators have of conveying the magic of Shabbat, enriching and enlivening the Sabbath experience for students and their families. Others include a selection of "social stories" and "file folders activities," tasks designed to divide Shabbat rituals into clear, easy-to-understand and sequential pieces. At the end of the unit, a Temple Book prepares the students for the multiple joys – and potentially overwhelming stimulations -- of a synagogue visit.
"Our students come to Gateways to learn, but also for a rich Jewish experience each week," says Gateways' Jewish Education Program Coordinator Nancy Mager. "Since each child learns differently, we make sure ours is a multi-sensory environment. By the time they leave on a Sunday, they've sung it, heard it, tasted it, felt it and seen it – all our activities are designed to reach them at a level that is meaningful to them."
It's a philosophy that helps the students at varying ages and stages (they span the ages 4-18) engage in everything from simple recognition of the symbols to learning the blessings to the deeper meanings of Shabbat. In addition, in the bar/bat mitzvah class, a greater emphasis is placed on the Shabbat service and Torah reading.
Mager reports her teachers continually adapt and refine the materials to work for each student. An unexpected bonus: parents and educators alike are finding "Gateways' user-friendly materials help all children relate to Jewish traditions."
In addition to strengthening a child's personal relationship with Shabbat and enriching a family's Shabbat rituals, Gateways also works to build the kind of strong Jewish community that's kept Shabbat alive for generations of Jews. Snack time, for instance, naturally facilitates social interaction. "When you learn and eat with friends – a time-honored Jewish tradition -- you automatically build community," says Mager.
That's something Cindy Kaplan is learning from her daughter's Gateways experience. "What our daughter learns in the classroom with her peers -- blessings, songs, holidays and rituals -- she carries over to our home, our synagogue, and beyond," she says. "Gateways has helped our daughter learn that Judaism belongs to her, each member of her family and the larger community."
February 15, 2011
Why is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) so important? The celebration, now in its third year in communities across North America, not only lets everyone in on the wide variety of services available to people with disabilities and their families (too often a well-kept secret) but, just as important, JDAM raises awareness about this underserved 20 percent of our children and families.
Here in Greater Boston, when you read over the Jewish Community Resources for People with Disabilities you’ll be amazed at how much we already have in place in our community.
And when you meet Marie (This month’s “Voice from the Gates”), you’ll get a glimmer of what, working together, our communal resources can mean to families who have a member with special needs.
This month also saw a very exciting announcement: the foundation of a new Special Needs and Disabilities Network charged with elevating special needs services and disabilities advocacy among Jewish communities around the globe.
Slated to be housed at the Jewish Funders Network, the new initiative is charged with assessing the current state of funding of special needs programs in the Jewish community, identifying successes that can be duplicated on a larger scale, and bringing attention to underserved areas that would benefit from additional funding.
Here at Gateways, we’re delighted that our long-time partners Jay Ruderman and Sharon Shapiro of the Ruderman Family Foundation are the catalysts behind the new network. It grew out of last October’s ADVANCE conference which brought new awareness of the role of special needs advocacy and services within the Jewish world. ADVANCE, which gathered together more than 100 key Jewish funders, was convened by the Ruderman Family Foundation, along with JFN, Jewish Federations of North America and our own Combined Jewish Philanthropies.
We’re also proud of the other Gateways advocates, partners and board members involved in the new network, including Gateways board member and Vice President of Development Rachel and Larry Chafetz and the Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, visionary early funders of our innovative Mitzvah Mensches and B’nei Mitzvah training programs.
As JDAM, this month is a priceless opportunity to engage our synagogues, our schools, our agencies, our children and ourselves in welcoming and serving this important part of the Jewish people.
Even so, for our families and our agencies, and strong supporters like CJP and the Ruderman Family Foundation (See Jay’s powerful op-ed), all 12 months – actually, 13 in the Hebrew calendar this year -- are Jewish Disability Awareness Months too.
Category: Reflections & Perspectives
February 8, 2011
Marie Strazzulla is a 25-year-old who loves her job. Mostly because no two days are ever the same.
Some days find Marie in the Gateways: Access to Jewish Education office, stamping, filing, collating or her favorite task: shredding (“It’s heavy work but it’s fun.”).
Other days she’s at Gateways Sunday program, where she’s responsible for serving dozens of students their mid- morning snack. “I like the kids,” she says. “I know a lot of the teen volunteers from Camp Ramah.”
Like so many other young adults in their first real job, Marie is proud of the new skills she’s learning every day. And, because she has Down syndrome and lives in the Boston area, Marie was able to receive the kind of community support that both trained the Norwood resident and placed her in the job she now loves.
After high school, Marie enrolled in CHAI Works, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service designed to give adults with disabilities the kind of grounding in real-life work settings needed for jobs in either volunteer or paid positions. Then they make the match, finding just the right person for the job.
Last summer, when Gateways approached CHAI Works to help them find someone to work in their Newton office, Marie was ready and the “shidduch” was quickly made. To help with the adjustment, her job coach came along the first couple of times.
These days, Marie takes care of the office tasks that used to pile up, those chores the staff was always too busy to get around to. And each Sunday the students know Marie will appear in their classroom with a cart laden with tantalizing snacks.
Marie’s presence has also had a positive impact on Gateways’ staff, reports Executive Director Arlene Remz. “What we didn’t realize in the beginning was that, in order to help Marie be successful, we needed to structure the work and be clear in our expectations, breaking things down step-by-step and making sure we were communicating well. It turned out that this is a skill that makes things better in all the work we do.”
In addition, she adds, “Marie’s success is a very real reminder of Gateways’ goals, the hopes and dreams for independence that we have for our students too.”
Indeed, things have gone so well in the office that, early last fall, Marie was asked to add Sunday program responsibilities to her schedule.
But, as much as Marie’s loves her job, another topic that never fails to elicit unbounded enthusiasm is “I Love Lucy.” It turns out that, not only does Marie own DVDs containing every episode of the 195s hit series (the ones that make her laugh the loudest:Lucy’s grape-stomping, cupcake-manufacturing and candy-testing misadventures), but she’s also a storehouse of little-known Lucy trivia. A sampling:The exterior of the house used in the show was the star’s actual home, on Beverly Hills’ Lexington Street.
Surprisingly, Marie says her favorite part of her job isn’t serving snack to the children or even the shredding, but just spending time with the Gateways staff. “It’s seeing all you guys and feeling sort of comfortable,” she says with a shy smile. “Everyone here helps me a lot.”
January 25, 2011
The Jewish Funders Network has announced the formation of a peer network of funders dedicated to elevating special needs and disability advocacy in the Jewish community.
The network is a 2 year initiative funded by the partners and administered by the Jewish Funders Network. An outgrowth of ADVANCE, the October 2010 conference on special needs held by The Ruderman Family Foundation, JFN, Jewish Federations of North America and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the network’s goal is to assess the current state of funding of special needs programs in the Jewish community, identify successes that can be duplicated on a larger scale, and bring attention to underserved areas that would benefit from additional funding. The network will feature a dedicated staff director, whose appointment will be announced at a later date.
Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation said, “It is extremely gratifying to see how the ADVANCE conference has catalyzed the funding community around special needs issues. There is no question that a consensus is forming to elevate the whole discussion of special needs programming within the Jewish community, including finding ways to more fully integrate disabled and special needs individuals and families more fully into Jewish communal life.”
The network’s 14 founding members include, among others:
December 28, 2010
Gateways' partner Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which has done so much to raise awareness of including people with special needs as full participants in Jewish life, said it all in this week's Jewish Week. In a terrific article titled, "Attention to Disabilities Seen Changing," Jay put his finger on "a critical mass or consensus that's emerging across the agency spectrum."
Gateways is proud to be in the forefront of that critical mass of programs delivering services to those who've been, until very recently, left outside the community for way too long. We're able to offer a Jewish education to children with special needs in a wide variety of educational settings, from day schools to our free-standing Sunday school to bar-bat mitzvah classes to, beginning this year, many of our local congregational and community schools too.
Stay tuned for February – Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month -- as Gateways brings you easy-to-use resources for home and class to help make our Jewish traditions more inclusive to all our children.
Gateways: Access to Jewish Education is Boston's central address for Jewish special education. Follow our blog as we spotlight the best in Jewish educational practices and materials for children through exciting ideas, valuable resources, moving personal stories and important updates.
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