Archives before September 2018

Solomon Schechter Day School Identified as Second Location for Innovative Jewish Day School Inclusion Initiative

July 31, 2018

Teacher helping small girl with writing assignmentCombined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston’s Jewish Federation, today announced that the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston is the second school to benefit from the $5 million gift made by the Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation to create the Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative.  This groundbreaking effort is aimed at educating students who have more complex learning profiles. MetroWest Jewish Day School was named as the first site to house the initiative earlier this spring. Establishing this crucial initiative within these two schools will enable the Jewish day school system in Greater Boston to accommodate a broader array of learners and their families than was previously possible. The program’s inclusive philosophy strives to establish Jewish day school options where students with various types of learning disabilities can succeed and flourish within the regular educational framework of school.

CJP, Solomon Schechter Day School, and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Boston’s regional Jewish special education agency, will collaborate to tailor The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative for Schechter. In designating Schechter as the second program site, CJP and Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation recognize the significant strides toward inclusion already made by the school, whose mission is centered around excellence in individualized education. The initiative will be staffed by a team of experienced teachers, special educators and allied educational service providers (e.g., speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists). Gateways will facilitate local outreach to identify families and students who might be suitable for the program and will also provide the program with ongoing consultation services.

Gilda and the late Alfred Slifka have been long-time supporters of Jewish day schools and equal access to day school education for students of widely varying strengths and abilities. The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative at Schechter will be a fully integrated special education initiative grounded in the best practice of inclusion for students with a range of learning challenges.

“Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston has a proven track record of commitment to academic excellence and building a strong Jewish education on the foundations of Jewish values and community. Schechter plays a critical role in the landscape of Jewish Boston and this initiative will give more families access to the power of a Jewish day school education. This grant and the powerful collaborations that come with it will also empower our schools and our community to lead the way as models of excellence and innovation,” said Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ President and CEO, Rabbi Marc Baker.

“Nothing would have pleased Fred more than to see our Foundation work with CJP to jump-start such an impactful program,” said Gilda Slifka. “He believed, as I do, that inclusion policies and practices benefit the entire school, not just the children with learning challenges, and that it is the responsibility of Jewish day schools to develop and provide programs that will help a broader array of student learners reach their full potential educationally.”

Rebecca Lurie, Head of the Solomon Schechter Day School, said that “we are committed at Schechter to knowing each and every child deeply as learners and as people. We have created the internal systems to be able to achieve that vision and we are thrilled that the Slifka family and CJP believe in our abilities and are thus eager to invest in our school. Every child is created b’tzelem elokim (in God’s image), and it is our responsibility as educators to see the unique beauty each child brings to our community and support them as best we can. There is no holier work than that.”

The Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation’s original $5 million gift will be distributed over a 10- year period to establish the initiative at both schools. Additional components of The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative include:

  • Students (five to seven at each site) will spend much of the school day in general education classrooms with support as needed from program staff.
  • Professional training will be conducted for faculty members at the two participating schools so that classroom teachers are part of the overall plan and model for the initiative’s students.
  • Ancillary services staff (e.g. speech and language, occupational therapy, etc.) will provide services as needed on site.
  • CJP will convene a professional advisory board comprised of local and national experts who will come together on a regular basis to consult with CJP, Solomon Schechter Day School, MetroWest Jewish Day School, and Gateways about program design and implementation, ensuring that the program is utilizing the most cutting-edge technologies and practices and meeting the needs of the program’s learners.

The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative builds on the strong foundation that CJP, with the leadership and support of the Ruderman Family Foundation, and in partnership with Boston-area Jewish day schools and Gateways, have created in order to promote inclusive practices within the schools over the past 10-plus years. Families interested in learning more about enrollment in the Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative should contact Sharon Goldstein at, 617-630-9010 x106, or Shira Strosberg at 617-630-4609.

About Solomon Schechter Day School

The Solomon Schechter Day School is a premier Jewish day school that nurtures self-discovery through an innovative and engaging curriculum for children 15 months through eighth grade. We ignite a spark in students for Jewish learning and a love of Israel while fostering a caring, collaborative, and joyful community. At Schechter, every child is known and loved.

Schechter currently offers busing to five different areas including Cambridge, Lexington and Waltham. We are accepting applications for children from 15 months through 8th grade.

After 56 years of educating children, the legacy of blending tradition and innovation combined with academic excellence and an empathic and kind culture remains the hallmark of the Solomon Schechter Day School.


Gateways: Access to Jewish Education Named One of America's Top 50 Innovative Jewish Organizations

By Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
June 4, 2018

Slingshot Guide 2018 CoverFor a tenth year, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education has been named one of North America’s top 50 innovative Jewish organizations in the thirteenth annual Slingshot Guide. The Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving. Slingshot 2018 was released today.

Selected from among hundreds of finalists reviewed by over 100 individuals with expertise in grant-making and Jewish communal life, the Guide said that Gateways: Access to Jewish Education “is elevating the conversation around the inclusion of students with disabilities and is sharing its resources and expertise to create the conditions for sustainable inclusive impact on a larger scale as it prepares to expand outside of Massachusetts.Organizations included in this year’s Guide were evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector, and their effectiveness at achieving results. Gateways: Access to Jewish Education is proud to be among the 50 organizations honored for meeting those standards.

The organizations included in the Guide are driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities – both within and beyond the Jewish community – as never before.

“Gateways: Access to Jewish Education is proud to be selected in this year’s guide, and thrilled to be part of the amazing community of the hundreds of innovative Jewish organizations included in the Guide over the past eleven years who continue to create positive change in the Jewish community,” said Arlene Remz, the organization’s Executive Director. "We are honored to be included among the ranks of other incredible inclusion organizations like Hidden Sparks, The Miracle Project and Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence and alongside many other innovative Massachusetts-based organizations like Keshet, PJ Library, Mayyim Hayyim and Interfaith Family."

Slingshot Guide 2018 CoverAdded Stefanie Rhodes, Executive Director of Slingshot, which publishes the Guide each year, “Slingshot’s work is to help Jews find, fund and connect to meaningful, exciting experiences in Jewish life. We are proud to highlight organizations doing exceptional work, serving as the trailblazers for what is possible, meeting the community’s evolving needs and inspiring all of us. Whether we look to the guide for funding ideas, best practices or trends in Jewish life, it remains a resource for all of us, providing new tools and optimism for our collective future.”

Sarah Rueven, Slingshot’s board chair, agreed, "We are excited to highlight the work of organizations that strengthen Jewish life by rising to the challenges of the day and making our community more relevant to our generation. We are inspired by projects that help people connect to Jewish life in ways that both feel both fresh and relevant, while honoring our traditions. Readers will learn about valuable new projects and gain a deeper insight into the emerging needs in Jewish life, as identified by our community's top leaders.” 

Being listed in the Guide is often an important step for selected organizations to attain much needed additional funding and to expand the reach of their work, as the Guide is a frequently used resource for donors seeking to support organizations transforming the world in novel and interesting ways.

About the Slingshot Guide

The Slingshot Guide, now in its thirteenth year, was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios to include the most innovative and effective organizations, programs and projects in North America. The Guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. The Slingshot Guide has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America's Jewish community – and how nonprofits are meeting new needs and reaching new audiences. The book has been published annually since 2005. Each edition is available as a free download at, where you can learn more about Slingshot’s work and new strategy for continuing their impact into the future.

Category: News

Tagged under: News, Slingshot


Coming of Age: Julia’s Bat Mitzvah Rite of Passage

By Michelle and Ron Herzlinger
April 12, 2018

Girl holding a Torah

About three years ago, we wrote an article for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education’s blog about our experience as parents of a child with learning disabilities.  The article went on to describe some of the trials and tribulations we struggled with for many years to find an appropriate Jewish educational setting for our daughter Julia.  Readers of the article were pleased to learn that our efforts were rewarded by discovering the Gateways Sunday Program here in Boston.  At the time, while Julia was participating in her Jewish learning on Sundays, she was also beginning to prepare for her bat mitzvah, and the Sunday Program helped to lay the initial groundwork for additional preparation that Julia would have with an after school mid-week class. 

As any Jewish parent who has a child with special needs can attest, preparing for a bar/bat mitzvah can bring on that all too familiar feeling of being uncomfortable.  That discomfort—a real feeling of  anxiety—comes from having to honestly separate what you want for your child’s bat mitzvah (your hopes) from what’s most appropriate for your child.  The reconciliation of these differences must balance her capabilities in light of the requirements of the bat mitzvah service against the specific needs and abilities of the child.  In other words, both the child about to become bat mitzvah and the service itself must be honored. So, what to do?  We trusted the guidance we and Julia received from the staff concerning Julia’s learning and preparation for the service because we knew that they had done this before in ways that held true to the spirit of both child and tradition. Gateways worked with us to customize the logistics of the day so that we could provide Julia with a warm and welcoming environment, an audience of her friends, teachers and family, music and a seudah to celebrate her rite of passage. 

We’re happy to relate that the entire year of dedicated preparation for her bat mitzvah allowed Julia to learn the blessings on the Torah, as well as share in the communal prayers and singing which are the hallmarks and customs of the Jewish people. As the weeks went by during her preparatory year, one Shabbat to another, Julia would share with us what new material and insights she had gained.  We noticed that more and more on each Shabbat, Julia was participating in the Shabbat conversation, adding her perspectives and joining her family in singing the blessings before and after the Shabbat meal.  The Gateways learning was paying off in a currency of shared emotion and love for her Jewishness with her family. 

Fast forward to her bat mitzvah day that included this memorable highlight.   With the guests facing the aron kodesh, (ark where the Torah is kept), Julia’s brothers have helped Julia remove the Torah from the ark, the blessings have been said, and there stands Julia ready to deliver her d’var Torah (speech about what she has learned from her Torah portion) Julia relates the details of her portion, sharing with us her unique appreciation for the lessons of the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality to guests).  Songs are sung, dancing commences and Julia loves her day!  As we look back, perhaps the most amazing thing was just how normally Julia’s bat mitzvah flowed in the course of our family life. She had her bat mitzvah after her older brother celebrated his and before her younger brother will celebrate his. Despite her atypical learning profile, she was, ultimately, no different from her “typical” brothers in what was expected of her as a Jewish 13-year old.

This moment—this celebration—was all made possible through the tireless hours of preparation and one-on-one learning that happened between Julia and her Gateways instructor.  But what else made for this special day?  What have we learned?  We understand that successful outcomes are determined by the direct effort to find and marry reasonable expectations on the part of parents to a child’s ability to deliver on those expectations.  When parents trust the educational process of Gateways and remain open-minded to crafting a service which honors both the child and the bat mitzvah service together, magical things can happen.  Stay tuned for the next chapter in Julia’s Jewish experience, as she’s decided to continue on in her Gateways education!


Opening the Gates of Bar/Bat Mitzvah to All

By David Farbman, Director of the Center for Professional Learning
April 12, 2018

Hands guiding hands along a tactile siddurIn the American Jewish community, the bar mitzvah (and later bat mitzvah) has long stood out as a pinnacle moment in the life of a family and individual. To be sure, some of the milestone’s import stems from the social pressure we might feel to “put on a good party” for our friends. But the bar and bat mitzvah also hold such weight because, in the celebration of turning 13 and partaking in traditional practices of our faith, young Jews are making a very public pronouncement of pride in being Jewish and in becoming a member with full benefits in the Jewish community.

For many young Jews, however, a bar or bat mitzvah seemed out of reach, not for lack of desire, but because the expected achievements that marked the moment—like reading from the Torah, chanting blessings and other prayers and teaching the congregation—involved cognitive or social abilities that they struggled to sustain. Indeed, how could a child classified as “non-verbal” or one who suffered from social anxiety undertake some of the rituals of the bar/bat mitzvah? The answer for too many of these children was to skip the milestone altogether, a truly unfortunate circumstance that families accepted with the same sad resignation they did about so many other experiences they knew their child with special needs would never have the opportunity to enjoy.

But not all parents of children with disabilities were (or are) willing to so resign themselves. They know that even if their child cannot read or speak or process in typical ways, their son or daughter is just as proud of their Jewish heritage as any child and is equally eager to demonstrate their pride to friends and family. Still, how is it possible to marry the desire to experience the rite of passage with the reality that the customs that define that ceremony may be largely inaccessible to a child with special learning needs?

To reconcile this tension, Gateways follows a twofold strategy. First, Gateways expert educators work with families and clergy together to make modifications within the service and its implementation to accommodate the child’s specific needs and abilities. Second, Gateways has established the infrastructure necessary to adequately prepare each child to reach her/his own personal benchmarks. The Gateways B’nei Mitzvah Program curriculum allows students to explore the meaning of the bar/bat mitzvah experience, a weekly opportunity to practice prayers and reading in a social and supportive setting and to form a one-on-one relationship with a dedicated tutor.

We’re pleased to have the voices of each of the players in this partnership—program manager, tutor, clergy, parent and, of course, bar mitzvah celebrant. Reading their pieces together conveys how powerful this coming of age is for the students and everyone who surrounds them. And it illustrates how many possibilities are open to students with disabilities, if we approach the process thoughtfully, individually and collaboratively. 


Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah

By Rabbi Allison Berry, Temple Shalom, Newton MA
April 11, 2018

Tutor and girl working together

We gathered together in front of the open ark. Wrapped in her beautiful tallit, Lauren stood proud and tall, as she received her blessing. Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah was the culmination of many months commitment, hard work, and yes, also joy and laughter. Despite her initial anxiety, Lauren shared her voice and personality, as she chanted from Torah, taught her friends and family about Jewish tradition, and led the Temple Shalom community in prayer.

Lauren’s Bat Mitzvah was the result of careful thought and preparation that began at Gateways. Last spring, as the officiating rabbi, I met with Lauren, the Gateways team and Lauren’s parents, as we crafted an outline, rehearsal plan and set goals for Lauren’s learning. The Gateways team and Lauren’s mom shared information with me about her strengths and learning style. Lauren shared ideas about what she thought was important about becoming Bat Mitzvah. Together, we decided it would be a priority for Lauren to read from the Torah, chant the Shema and teach the congregation about her Torah portion.

Since Lauren sometimes struggles with anxiety, we planned to meaningfully acclimate her to leading prayers in our sanctuary with the microphone turned on, while wearing the dress, shoes and ritual items she would wear on the day she became Bat Mitzvah (a wool tallit can sometimes be itchy!!). We discovered the Hakafah (the practice of walking the Torah around the sanctuary so the community can be close to the scroll) made Lauren especially nervous. We practiced this moment in her service over and over, planning for the unexpected: enthusiastic guests trying to hug the Bat Mitzvah, people laughing or sneezing and loving family who might cry at this powerful moment. Through these run-throughs, we discovered Lauren preferred high-fives to hugs and decided to communicate this to all guests. We previewed what the day of the Bat Mitzvah might feel like by inviting members of the community into the sanctuary and asking them to make a joyful noise – talking, laughter and everything in-between – while Lauren led prayers. We experimented with the timing of our rehearsals (mornings when we are fresh and not tired are ALWAYS preferred). We worked hard to be consistent but also flexible, to follow our set plan, and we decided rehearsals should last no more than 45 minutes. Most of all, Lauren and our team learned to expect the unexpected.

Lauren chose to write her D’var Torah (speech about the Torah text) about the Biblical brothers, Jacob and Esau. Throughout the book of Genesis, the rivalry between the two is difficult and intense. But finally, at the end of Lauren’s Torah portion (Parashat Vayishlach), we learn they forgive one another. Lauren was fascinated by this story and wrote, “Jacob and Esau forgive one another because family is more important than an argument. Family is something that will last forever.” Ultimately, the importance of family was what Lauren’s special day was all about. On the day of her Bat Mitzvah, through her commitment, intention and good deeds, Lauren became an adult member of our Jewish family.

Lauren taught her teachers and her rabbi a powerful lesson about perseverance, how to start and end rehearsals with humor and how to always appreciate a good high-five. As she chanted and taught words of Torah, Lauren added her voice and perspective to the story of our people. She reminded us, that without her, our Jewish family would be incomplete.