Archives before October 2018

Envisioning Inclusive Schools

By David Farbman and Daniel Chiat
September 14, 2018

For decades, Jewish schools and congregational educational programs have grappled with how to include children who have atypical learning needs, including those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, social-emotional challenges (such as anxiety or depression) or language-based learning disabilities. In an era when Jews are increasingly disassociating from organized Jewish life, our schools must do everything possible to ensure any and all children (and, in turn, their families) have full access to Jewish culture, ritual and experience. In short, Jewish continuity depends on inclusion.

Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the central agency for Jewish special education in Boston and a provider of professional development in inclusion and tailored instruction to meet individual student needs around the country, recently partnered with Measuring Success, a research and consulting firm with survey expertise in the education sector, to conduct a national assessment of the field in order to better understand Jewish schools’ inclusion challenges.

Responses by Organizational Type

The “Inclusion in Jewish Education” survey anonymously asked school leaders and professionals how they currently support diverse learners, and what curricular and professional development opportunities could help them improve. Measuring Success distributed the survey instrument via email and online. Responses were received from nearly 200 leaders from Jewish educational institutions of various sizes across North America.

Over half of the responses came from the top professional (e.g., head of school, education director) of the organization, and the rest were from a mix of other administrators, board members, clergy and teachers. Measuring Success also conducted telephone interviews to complement the written survey. This article summarizes findings from Jewish day schools (JDSs) and supplementary (religious) schools.

Jewish Day Schools: A Growing Commitment to Inclusion

The survey found that Jewish day schools are taking the challenges of inclusion very seriously. A vast majority of JDSs (88 percent) prioritize providing access to diverse learners, defined as “effectively serving a wide range of learners by proactively offering professional development and implementing school systems.” Additionally, 92 percent of survey respondents reflect this commitment by indicating that professional staff are motivated to reach inclusion-related goals, and 83 percent express a desire to proactively engage field experts to offer professional development to their staff around educating diverse learners.

While these responses are encouraging, day schools may not be aiming high enough: Only 16 percent say that their entire faculty participates in ongoing training to maintain current knowledge and a repertoire of strategies to address a range of needs. Research indicates that teachers require at least 15 hours of quality professional development per year to appreciably strengthen practice. In the absence of consistent commitment to learning, how much growth can truly take place?

In the Inclusion survey, most school leaders stated that they want professional development to provide strategies to strengthen inclusion practices within individual classrooms and teach them how to support students with more significant learning needs. Further, nearly half of schools are eager to engage with field experts to provide schoolwide programming that fosters the value of inclusion, such as disability awareness curricula and activities.

In a time of stretched budgets, what resources can we reasonably expect schools to commit to inclusion efforts? In both the written responses and in conversations, survey respondents indicated that day schools have a track record of committing money to achieve inclusion-related goals. Further, they remain willing to do so in the future. Notably, nearly two-thirds indicated in the affirmative when asked if their school has access to all or most of the funding needed to achieve their inclusion goals.

Supplementary School Findings: A Long Road Ahead

Supplementary schools prioritize and carry out inclusion initiatives with less intensity than their day school counterparts. Given their reliance on part-time teachers whose educational training varies, most respondents stated that their organizations engage in limited professional and curriculum development or organizational assessment. A minority of supplementary schools represented in the survey (20 percent) give some level of training related to diverse learners to all of their faculty. Moreover, a sizable segment of supplementary school respondents (40 percent) rate their current approach to serving students with diverse learning needs as largely non-existent, or ad hoc at best.

Despite the current state of affairs, there is an appetite for improvement. The vast majority (90 percent) of supplementary school leaders indicate that they would like all of their teachers to have some familiarity with differentiated instruction to address the needs of diverse learners. Further, 75 percent of schools express a strong desire to build a more holistic approach to inclusion. Presently 56 percent of respondent schools engage in some form of professional development with outside experts.

One notable trend suggesting that educators are being proactive in addressing the needs of atypical learners is qualitative evidence suggesting a growing number of schools that have hired a staff member specifically dedicated to inclusion. Further, even though supplementary schools (as compared to day schools) manage with smaller budgets and less available time, they may be able to leverage the flexibility of their curricula and educational model to allow for more creative solutions to reach atypical learners.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The Inclusion in Jewish Education survey illustrates that the field of Jewish education demonstrates a meaningful commitment to the inclusion of diverse learners. However, there is still much room to improve. Two specific data points suggest where this growth can occur.

  • Within the day school community more than 80 percent of schools state that they have no commitment to ongoing, whole-school professional development around inclusion. Raising the number of schools that do engage in these more intensive efforts can dramatically and positively impact teachers’ capacity to better educate all learners.
  • Four in ten supplementary schools admit to engaging in essentially no effort to include a broad range of learners. This means that a significant number of students are likely not being adequately served by Jewish educational institutions.

Addressing these twin issues – both of which relate to capacity-building – requires schools to channel their expressed commitment to inclusion into demonstrable action. Often, the institutions themselves find it difficult to generate this action from within because they are challenged to see beyond what they already know and practice. Therefore, day and supplementary schools can turn to external partners to assist them in educating faculty and administrators about the intricacies of inclusion and differentiated instruction.

To have a real impact, the support from experts must go beyond simply providing tips and tidbits of information. They should work in partnership with schools to reflect deeply on school culture and practice, motivate educators and administrators to make changes as needed, organize school staff to meet these new commitments and set institutions forward on a new path of including all learners.

Clearly, developing such partnerships requires complex work and demands a significant investment of time and money. Yet, if the field of Jewish education intends to live out the principle of valuing every human being equally, this is the difficult work we must do together to build the kind of institutions and programs that reflect our highest values and ensure that every child has access to the traditions and teachings of our faith.

To join this conversation – whether you’re an educator, administrator, lay leader or consultant – please email

David Farbman is Senior Director of Education, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education.
Daniel Chiat is Vice President at Measuring Success.

This article originally appeared in eJewishPhilanthropy.


Embracing Inclusion During the High Holidays

By Judy Bolton Fasman for Jewish Boston
September 14, 2018

Two people holding hands across a table

This High Holiday season Jews across the world will come together in synagogues and temples to welcome the New Year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are among the holiest times on the Jewish calendar, and it’s the season to make sure everyone can participate in their own way. There are primers and High Holiday companion booklets that help people to find meaning in observance and prayer. Just as important are toolkits and other resources to include all people in the High Holiday experience.

In a recent conversation with JewishBoston, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, an organization that “fights stigmas and advances opportunities for people with disabilities,” talked about her experiences at High Holiday services as the parent of a child with a disability. “My child behaves differently than other children,” she said. “One time on Yom Kippur was one of those times my child was behaving differently. Congregants complained and we were asked to leave.”

Arlene Remz, executive director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, noted in an email exchange with JewishBoston: “Nobody comes to synagogue with the goal of annoying the people around them. So give people the benefit of the doubt and presume that everybody’s doing the best they can. If somebody is disrupting your experience, assume they don’t have the tools they need to express themselves.”

To welcome everyone into the synagogue, RespectAbility has created a “High Holiday Disability Tool Kit for Synagogue Professional Staff, Lay Leadership & Volunteers.” The 47-page booklet covers topics that include terminology, alternative seating arrangements, sensory calming room and usher tips. An important takeaway for this High Holiday season is that words matter. Remz explained that using “people-first language” is paramount when addressing a person with a disability or writing about inclusion.

Language matters a lot,” agreed Laszlo Mizrahi. “The best thing is to call someone by their name. Someone who has Down syndrome is not their disability. A person is not a wheelchair user but someone who uses a wheelchair. People first. Ask someone their preferred way to be called and you’ll find that most of the time it is by their name versus their label.”

RespectAbility’s toolkit offers a similar lesson. Laszlo Mizrahi and her team provide a helpful list of dos and don’ts when addressing a person with a disability. The list of don’ts is particularly illuminating for someone who is well intentioned but may not know the appropriate vocabulary to address a person with a disability.

Do not use:

  • “Disabled person”
  • “Confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound” (a wheelchair enables people to get around and participate in society; it’s liberating, not confining)
  • “Blind/deaf person” or “deaf and dumb”
  • Euphemistic terms such as “physically challenged”

Remz and Laszlo Mizrahi offer advice to clergy, congregants and people with a disability to prepare for a meaningful High Holiday experience. Since most of us are congregants during the High Holidays, Remz encourages us not to be the person giving someone “that look” when a congregant or their children are being disruptive. “This, more than anything else,” said Remz, “makes people with disabilities and their families feel unwelcome. Smile, go up to people and introduce yourself.”

The women noted that clergy can work in tandem with ushers who are the people “on the ground.” Ushers are usually the first to greet a congregant, and clergy has a role in “helping them set up a scenario,” said Laszlo Mizrahi. “Clergy should go through a checklist with ushers about everything from wheelchair access to pointing out the accessible restroom.”

Remz asserted that a person with a disability or parent who has a child with a disability might want “to go over what to expect. Talk about last year’s services; look at a video of a High Holiday service. Some synagogues keep videos of their past services on their websites or YouTube. Write a social story about what to expect this coming year.”

Laszlo Mizrahi observed that it’s important to recognize that the majority of disabilities are invisible. “When people think about disability, they say, ‘I’m going to look for the individual who is blind or uses a wheelchair,’” she said. “For the majority of people who have a disability, it is not apparent. They can have chronic pain and illnesses or have mental health issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that one out of every four adults has a disability. People with disabilities are discriminated against, but disability doesn’t discriminate against groups. Every demographic is impacted by disability.”

Added Remz: “Synagogues embrace so many forms of diversity: age, gender, religious background, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status. Understand that disability is just another one of the magnificent manifestations of human diversity, and embrace it.”


This article originally appeared on


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.

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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!