Archives before September 2018

A Bat Mitzvah Journey

By Rochelle Kelman, Gateways Institutional Relations Manager and Tutor
April 11, 2018

Girl holding Torah

Amen”. Temana chanted beautifully, after reciting with confidence the blessings after the Torah. She lifted her eyes and scanned the congregation surrounding her and smiled. Did I catch a glimpse of a sigh? Or perhaps I was imagining a shared sigh of wonder that Temana had arrived successfully at the completion of her bat mitzvah responsibilities. Looking around the room, I saw a myriad of smiling faces. Her parents beamed with pride; her older sister’s face expressed joy and relief, as she could well appreciate the amount of work put in to succeed; her fellow b’nei mitzvah students, who have progressed alongside her in this shared experience, together with the rabbi, family and friends relishing this joyous moment. And then, a rain of soft candy ricocheted through the room towards Temana as she was being shielded by the rabbi’s tallit. Cheers of “Mazal Tov” and “Yasher koach” reverberated throughout the room. The smaller children pounced on the fallen goodies, stuffing them into their mouths and pockets.

Arriving at this point culminates a journey that Temana had started a year and a half ago at the Gateways B’nei Mitzvah program. Gateways prepares students with special educational needs for their bar/bat mitzvah with a combination of individual tutoring, classroom activities and a weekly prayer service. When Temana and I first discussed her plans to study for her bat mitzvah, she told me that the whole thing seemed like a dream to her; but because she had seen her sister Yannik go through with me as her tutor, she could see herself making this dream real. We approached our task one step at a time, beginning with learning the Hebrew Alef Bet with the help of Marion Green’s mnemonics for each letter and vowel. From there, we slowly progressed into reading words like shabbat and abba. Temana always took pleasure in asking for the meaning of each word. We giggled when some words sounded similar to English words like “car.” (The same sounding word in Hebrew means “cold.”) During class time, led by  gifted special education teacher, Rebecca Redner, we sat with all the other students and their tutors in the program to chant the tefilot in the same order to be expected during a Shabbat morning prayer service.

When Temana was reading quite fluently, the time had come for her to learn how to chant her bat mitzvah Torah portion. We spent some time discussing the story that appeared in her portion—Moses presenting the Ten Commandments to the Israelites at Mount Sinai—and then we waded knee-deep into unfamiliar words and the rising and falling notes (called trope) that would allow her to chant this Torah portion in the way tradition dictates. When Temana saw the paragraph from which she was to read, she expressed anxiety at the enormity of the task. We struggled at first when we tackled each new verse, but soon  celebrated with “high-fives,” as she mastered one verse after another.  A couple of months before the date of her bat mitzvah, Temana donned a beautiful tallit, hand-made especially for this occasion, and recited the blessings in class. From there, she proceeded to read her portion. At first she read timidly, but, as the weeks passed, her confidence grew and her focus sharpened. I was amazed at her poise and dedication even when she experienced a setback.

The day of her bat mitzvah arrived. Seated amongst her family, I felt the anticipation rising in Temana, who was ready to conduct her part of the service. Knowing how well prepared she was, I had no doubts she was ready to take her place amongst the many generations before her who have reached this milestone.

 Yasher koach, Temana!


My Gateways Bar Mitzvah Experience

By Nate Leibholz
April 11, 2018

Nate Leibholz

In the Gateways B’nei Mitzvah Program, I learned how to read Hebrew.

Marion Green and my tutor helped me learn to read from the Torah. Marion made sure I learned just the right amount each week and that I practiced a lot.  Marion and Mia helped me write a speech where I talked about becoming an adult and what that means.  

My teachers and friends from the B’nei Mitzvah program came to my bar mitzvah.  I still see lots of my friends at Mitzvah Mensches, my Gateways youth group.  

 After my Bar Mitzvah service, we had big celebration. My favorite part was when I was lifted up in the chair while the music was playing and all of my friends and family were around me smiling and cheering!  

I feel proud to be Jewish because Judaism teaches us to be kind and help each other. Thank you, Gateways for one of the best days of my life!


The Gateways B’nei Mitzvah Program: Making the Dream of a Jewish Coming-of-Age Possible

By Rebecca Redner, Educational Specialist
April 11, 2018

Teacher and student dressing the Torah

Over the years, I have had countless conversations with cautious parents, usually beginning with one tentative question: "Can my child have a bar/bat mitzvah?"  At Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the answer is “yes”.  For the past sixteen years, the Gateways B'nei-Mitzvah Program has prepared scores of children with disabilities to be comfortable, confident and successful during the celebration of their b'nei-mitzvah. 

The first component of the Gateways B'nei-Mitzvah Program involves time when students and their tutors learn, pray and work together.  (Every student is assigned a tutor with whom they work one-on-one for the first half of class.) As students arrive each afternoon, they are greeted warmly by their tutors and then whisked off to their comfortable individual work spaces.  The b'nei-mitzvah tutors are a group of passionate and well-trained Jewish adults from a wide range of backgrounds; in a given year, tutors may include college students, speech and language pathologists, general education teachers, special education teachers, clergy, librarians, lawyers, businesspeople and professors. The strong bonds between students and their tutors are clearly visible as you walk through the classroom and watch them work together in sessions that brim with energy and enthusiasm. 

This individual attention from a skilled tutor allows students to work towards goals designed around their unique abilities and challenges.  Some students learn how to decode Hebrew using a system of visual cues and mnemonic tricks, while others learn how to use an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to lead prayers.  Some students use a sight-word program to learn how to read transliterated prayers, while others engage in creative projects centered around their Torah portions.  Many tutors use token boards, high fives, walks and fidgets to motivate their students and help them to focus.

When tutoring is over, the entire class gathers together for the second part of the program: a spirited prayer service (t’fillot) during which students practice their new skills.  Every student is given a job to do. Some students chant Torah or lead the class in prayer, while others open the ark and carry the Torah.  As students complete their jobs, the entire class congratulates them with an energetic: "Yasher koach!"  Students grin with pride as they return to their seats, accepting handshakes from tutors and other students.  The repetition of the prayer service each week, combined with the supportive atmosphere, enables once tentative students to stand confidently in front of the small congregation in preparation for their b'nei-mitzvah. 

The final portion of the program, a whole class activity, brings meaning to the experiences in tutoring and t'fillot.  The curriculum of these activities was prompted and inspired by the question I could imagine many of my students grumbling to their parents as they make their way to class after an exhausting day at school: "But why do I have to go?"  In the first unit of the curriculum, students learn through games, presentations and group work the importance of becoming a responsible Jewish adult and celebrating this milestone with their community. 

The rest of the curriculum is based on questions that branch off from this original unit.  For example, in order to explain the meaning of b'nei-mitzvah, it is essential to teach what mitzvot are and the role they play in Jewish life.  And in order to teach that mitzvot are commandments given to us by God, one must teach who God is and why we follow God's commandments.  The class dives into these basic, yet complex, concepts that live at the heart of Judaism so that students leave with a better understanding of their religion and spirituality. In the end, students are better able to place the bar/bat mitzvah experience in the context of their Jewish lives. 

The Gateways B'nei-Mitzvah Program prepares students for b'nei-mitzvah, but it also does so much more.  It brings together students of all abilities in a supportive community in which friendships blossom.  It helps students gain confidence and feel accomplished at achieving long-term goals.  And it helps them to better understand what it means to become a full adult member of the Jewish community. 


Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation Gives $5 Million Donation to Establish Innovative Greater Boston Jewish Day School Inclusion Initiative

By Riva Cheses, Solomon McCown & Co.
March 26, 2018

Teacher and Student working together on coloring projectCombined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston’s Jewish Federation, today announced that the Alfred and Gilda Slifka Foundation has pledged a $5 million gift to create The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative, a comprehensive inclusion initiative to be housed at MetroWest Jewish Day School in Framingham and another local Jewish day school to be announced at a later date. Establishing this crucial initiative within the two k-8 schools will enable the Jewish day school system in Greater Boston to accommodate an even broader array of learners and their families than was previously possible, providing access for students with moderate to significant learning challenges. The program’s fully inclusive philosophy strives to establish Jewish day school options where all students, including those with learning disabilities, succeed and flourish within the regular educational framework of school.

CJP, MetroWest Jewish Day School, and Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Boston’s regional Jewish special education agency, will co-create the specific elements of The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative. In designating MetroWest Jewish Day School as the initial program site, CJP and the 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 may be suitable for the program and will also provide the initiative with ongoing consultation services.

Established in memory of the late Alfred Slifka – who along with his wife Gilda Slifka, was a long-term supporter of Jewish day schools and equal access to day school education for students of all abilities – The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative at MetroWest Jewish Day School will be a fully integrated special education initiative grounded in the best practice of inclusion for those students with moderate to significant learning challenges.

Teacher and student working together

"This is a wonderful tribute to Fred, a great friend with a warm heart who cared deeply about every child and everyone in need. He loved our people and our community and shared a vision of an inclusive community in which every child has access to Jewish education and a meaningful, dignified and joyful Jewish life surrounded by love," said Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ President Barry Shrage. “The creation of this initiative will expand upon the culture of inclusion in Jewish day school education in Boston spearheaded by the Ruderman Family Foundation beginning over a decade ago. The Slifka family’s generous contribution and commitment to families who desire a Jewish education for their children with moderate to significant learning challenges will serve as a model and inspiration for other communities throughout the country.” 

“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.”

The $5 million gift will be distributed over a 10- year period, to establish the initiative’s foundation at MetroWest Jewish Day School and one other site which has yet to be determined. Additional components of The Fred and Gilda Slifka Family Day School Inclusion Initiative include:

  • Students (5-7 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 all teachers at the two participating schools so all 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 to be comprised of a set of local and national experts who will come together on a regular basis to consult with CJP, 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.

“MetroWest Jewish Day School’s individualized approach to education aligns well with the intention of this grant. For over 15 years, we have been educating a wide range of learners by providing students the support they need to succeed in a nurturing and collaborative learning community,” said Dr. Scott Sokol, MWJDS Head of School.  “This grant will make it possible for us and our partners to do more for more students.”

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 Beth Null at, 508-620-5554 x105.


About CJP

The mission of CJP, Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation, is to inspire and mobilize the diverse Greater Boston Jewish community to engage in building communities of learning and action that strengthen Jewish life and the world around us. For more information please visit

About MetroWest Jewish Day School

MetroWest Jewish Day School is a Pre-K to grade 8 community Jewish day school that celebrates pluralism and diversity. MWJDS fosters the personal growth of each child through a multi-faceted, individualized, and dynamic 21st century approach to learning. Our student community actively engages in the comprehensive exploration of both secular and Jewish curricula, weaving together ancient texts and modern perspectives. MWJDS inspires our students to excel in the world as knowledgeable and responsible members of the diverse Jewish community.  MWJDS, located in Framingham, MA educates students from 17 cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

About Gateways: Access to Jewish Education

Gateways provides on-site special education support and services to students with a range of learning needs in seven Boston-area Jewish day schools. We employ a team of skilled speech/language therapists, occupational therapists, behaviorists and learning specialists to integrate personalized services within each day school. Children in participating schools receive direct services individually and/or in small groups, both in and out of classroom, to enhance their academic success and support their social, physical and behavioral development.   


The Education of Gateways' Arlene Remz

By Judy Bolton Fasman, Originally published on
February 23, 2018

Photo of Executive Director Arlene RemzArlene Remz likes to say her career began by meeting a little boy named Bobby O’Malley. Remz, the dynamic founding executive director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, met Bobby in the 1970s. He was a 7-year-old with Down syndrome who was institutionalized at Belchertown State School, and Remz volunteered at the school as a camper at nearby Camp Ramah in New England.

The experience set Remz on a lifelong path of dedication to students with disabilities. Although she studied special education in college and went on to teach after graduation, it was at the Camp Ramah Tikvah Program where her commitment to both Jewish education and special education initially came together. “The Tikvah Program was the first of its kind at a Jewish camp,” she says. “The experience was totally transformational for me. Here I was in a Jewish environment that included kids with disabilities.”

Remz’s professional journey also included working in special education and research at Education Development Center (EDC) with a focus on technology applications for students with disabilities. At the same time, she was actively involved as a volunteer in the Jewish community, including serving as president of the board of Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and participating on the board of Etgar L’Noar, a small grassroots effort that offered self-contained Sunday and b’nei mitzvah programs for Jewish children with more significant disabilities. In 2001 Remz decided it was time to bring together her two passions: Judaism and special education. She exchanged her seat on the Etgar L’Noar board to become the organization’s executive director.

Remz recalls that in the early 2000s, CJP intensified its efforts to serve people with disabilities. CJP’s funding included supporting housing, vocational training and community services for individuals of all ages with disabilities. Additionally, CJP tasked the Board of Jewish Education’s Office of Special Education with working with congregations and preschools to expand their professional capacity and awareness of special educational needs.

Added to the mix was the Peerless Excellence Grant from a group of anonymous donors, in which Schechter, Maimonides School and The Rashi School each received $10 million to enhance their educational missions. “Initially there were no provisions for special education or students with learning disabilities in the Peerless Excellence vision,” Remz says. In her role as Etgar L’Noar’s executive director, Remz was among the professionals who collaborated on a proposal that made a case for expanding special education services in day schools, and she and others successfully presented it to the Peerless Excellence donors for funding.

“At that time, most of the day schools in our region were not well equipped to support many students with learning challenges,” notes Remz. In 2006, as part of the Peerless Excellence initiative, the Ruderman Family Foundation took a leading role in making inclusion in Jewish education a top priority for the Boston Jewish community, and together with CJP, worked to help make the idea a reality. This deeper community commitment to inclusion spurred the boards of Etgar L’Noar and the Jewish Special Education Collaborative (JSEC), whose mission was dedicated to ensuring that children with learning challenges could remain and succeed in Jewish day schools, to merge in order to make a broader and more significant impact.  With the merger, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education was born.

Remz was the natural choice to be Gateways’ founding executive director. “With the formation of Gateways, Boston became the only community in the country that works on special education across all educational settings, including day schools, congregational schools, preschools and community schools,” she says.

Gateways is one of CJP’s 11 partner agencies, and the organization holds an annual event, Sweet Sounds, that attracts 500 attendees. “People are celebrating that we’re providing access to a Jewish education for students with disabilities,” Remz says. “We’ve also destigmatized the fact that children learn differently. We’re changing the Jewish educational landscape with the services that we offer.”

Students are not the only constituency that Gateways supports. Gateways is also focused on training educators to be better at differentiating instruction. “The paradigm now is that every teacher is responsible for all of the students in their classrooms, so that children with various learning styles and disabilities can learn in one environment,” Remz says.

Remz sees mental health and social and emotional issues as the next challenge in Jewish education. And school administrators agree. When Gateways recently surveyed local schools, leaders responded that their areas of greatest need are in the arena of social, emotional and mental health services. These are issues that have relevance for the broader school population, not only for the 20 percent of the population that have some sort of learning or social challenge. “There is a real recognition that, in these times, it is essential to view educational, social and emotional needs as intertwined,” Remz says. “School leaders are seeing that by ensuring that each of our schools is a place where children can grow and thrive as whole individuals, we are providing new generations of students with the tools to live healthy, happy lives.”

Remz passionately believes that children and teens with disabilities should have full access to Jewish life, and that a key piece to Jewish life is Jewish education. She says: “Because of Barry Shrage’s 30 years of leadership at CJP and his deep commitment to inclusion, Boston is leading the national Jewish community in demonstrating how we can be truly welcoming to people of all abilities. I am honored that Gateways, under my leadership, has played an important role in making an inclusive Jewish community a reality.”