Posts in category "Profiles"

The Next Chapter

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
June 18, 2021

“To be a leader, you do not need a crown or robes of office. All you need to do is to write your chapter in the story, do deeds that heal some of the pain of this world, and act so that others become a little better for having known you. Live so that, through you, our ancient covenant with God is renewed in the only way that matters: in life.”
--Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l

This week, Gateways underwent an important leadership transition as we paid tribute to our Board President of four years, Michelle S. Alkon, and installed our new Co-Presidents of the Board Nora Friedman and Dara Grossman at our Annual Meeting this past Monday evening.

When I started last August, Michelle was determined to ensure I was set up for success in my new role as CEO of Gateways. While there were never crowns or robes of office — our offices were virtual and we never worked together in person — Michelle's candor, openness, and deep personal devotion to Gateways always shone through the perennial computer screen.

Tamar, holding a flower, and Michelle, wearing a Red Sox shirt, both grinning   Michelle and I met in person
   for the first time in our respective
   roles just a few weeks ago!

 These values were the guideposts of our successful lay leader/staff partnership. Together, among many things that Gateways accomplished during the pandemic, we were able to oversee a fruitful strategic planning process, which culminated in the unanimous approval by our Board of a new Strategy Roadmap at our Annual Meeting. This Roadmap outlines a mandate for how Gateways will redouble our commitment to supporting systemic change in formal and informal Jewish educational settings. I look forward to sharing more about this Roadmap with you in future communiques!

So who will our next lay leader partners be as we seek to implement this Strategy Roadmap? At the Annual Meeting, Michelle introduced our new Co-Presidents of the Board beautifully, "Both Dara and Nora have held leadership roles on the Gateways Board for many years.

Image of Dara Grossman   Image of Nora Friedman
Dara Grossman                                                    Nora Friedman

 

"They understand the vital work that Gateways does and the role we play in our community… Each brings her own valuable perspective to Gateways. They represent the dream team for leadership."

I hope you will join me in thanking Michelle for her tremendous service as Board President these last four years and in welcoming Dara and Nora as they enter their new co-presidency and help write the next chapter of Gateways' story.

I am so grateful for our leadership and to YOU for your devoted service to Gateways’ mission of providing access for all of our children to Jewish life and learning.

Category: Profiles

 

We all lead. We all follow.

By Holden and Stuart Karon
April 3, 2019

Holden Karon:

In my Torah portion, Aaron and his sons are getting ready to become priests.  Aaron and his sons stay in the Tent of Meeting that was used as a temBoy and male and female teen tutors stand at makeshift bimah with iPadple.  They should not leave the tent while they are getting ready to become priests.  Aaron and his sons stay in the tent for seven days.  

While Aaron and his sons are in the tent, they prayed.  They also apologized for things they had done wrong in the past.  Aaron and his sons only left the tent when they were ready to become priests. 

Priests are leaders.  Priests lead by comforting people.  They can also be leaders by helping people do mitzvot.  I can be a leader, too.  I can be a leader by helping other people.  I can also be a leader by being kind.  Now that I am a Bar-Mitzvah, I look forward to being a leader in the Jewish community.

 

Stuart Karon:

Gateways is a Hebrew school for kids who don’t learn in typical ways. My son, Holden, has been learning at Gateways since we moved to Boston six years ago. In preparation for his bar mitzvah, they sent home a pictorial version of his parsha (Tzav). It’s the first time I’ve seen an abbreviated, kid-friendly story provide more plot and detail than the original, unless you’re looking to brush up on the finer points of animal and grain sacrifices.

In the parsha, Aaron and his sons go into a tent for seven days to prepare to be Jewish leaders. Gateways has been Holden’s tent. They have kids for 90 minutes each Sunday. It took years but this past weekend, Holden finally worked up enough hours to equal one full week in the tent. Three young brothers standing in synagogue with Torah spread in front of them

In his d’var, Holden speaks of being a leader. He won’t run a country, a company or even a committee. He may never hold a job. So how can he be a leader? Jodi and I wouldn’t be here this morning if not for Holden. Holden likes coming to shul, and so Jodi and I have become Shabbat regulars.

The parsha doesn’t give much detail of what Aaron and his sons do in the tent. When we pick up Holden from Gateways, we don’t get a lot of detail about what they did. And like a typical teen, Holden doesn’t tell us much.

Holden is not a detail-oriented kid, but enough details have stuck to give him a general appreciation and enjoyment of Jewish ritual. For him, rituals may be more fun than serious. He lights up when the ark opens and he sees a Torah. He covers his eyes for the Shema and peeks through fingers with a grin as the rest of us recite the prayer.

Enthusiasm inspires others. Holden starts clapping before the pace of the song picks up and the cantor and rabbis encourage us all to clap. If he spies the table with the challah and wine rolling up the ramp, he leads the way to the bima before one of the rabbis calls kids up at the end of the service. We’ve been wondering if he’ll still be welcome to join the kids on the bima now that he’s officially an adult. I’m not sure anyone will be able to dissuade him.

Holden leads in subtle ways, too. We used to live in Vermont. Holden led us to Boston in search of better schools for him. He led Jodi to our synagogue’s inclusion committee. He leads me to the T, as in MBTA. Every time we drive through Newton Center, Holden says “trains” with his iPad, and points and looks eagerly toward Station Street. Luckily the T hasn’t imposed fare hikes for standing on the platform, at least not at our favorite stop where you can see trains come and go for nearly a mile. I may not be as excited by the trains as he is, but an hour under the Station Diner with no agenda offers a break from routine, not unlike being at our synagogue for Shabbat. We should all find such breaks in our busy weeks. If any of you are interested, Holden would be happy to share the platform and show you how exciting trainspotting can be.

Our fellow congregants have heard some of Holden’s iPad-based siddur, and they will hear more. Many people have contributed to his voice. The recordings come from volunteers who work with Holden at Gateways, sit with him at services and live with him. Holden and others like him may not find solutions to global warming or income inequality, but they inspire many people to help others.

We’re surrounded by efforts to include everyone in Jewish life. The ramp up to the bimah, the sound system and wireless hearing-assist devices, the kids’ books and fidget toys that work for adults, too. Our congregation has three rabbis with very different styles, and we have many teens and professionals who make Gateways happen.

Holden may need more help and guidance than a typical person, but we all rely on others. None of us would do too well if we had to produce all our own food, build our own shelter and fabricate all our own clothes using only materials and tools we find or make. Some of us write useful software using tools others wrote to do so. Some of us provide medical, spiritual and legal care, while at times needing a little, too. Some of us cut hair, drive trains and prepare our temple’s hall for the lovely kiddush we enjoy after services. We help and we need help.

Aaron and his sons went to the tent so that they could help others participate in Jewish life. Aaron and his sons wouldn’t have had much to do or to eat if no one had brought sacrifices to the altar.

On his bar mitzvah day, Holden is manning the altar. Consider bringing a goat or sheep as an offering. He’d be thrilled. He’d keep it as a pet instead of sending it up in smoke, but that should be preferable at a Conservative congregation. If a ram or goat from your flock is too much, a friendly “hello” or smile will do.

Including everyone in Jewish life and other aspects of our daily ritual can mean having conversations that don’t come naturally to us. It takes a little effort, but we can all find ways to talk to people like Holden, who can’t speak, and to those who may be independent and typical, but don’t have people with whom to speak. Say “hello”, smile and ask a question that’s outside the routine.

With Holden, keep it simple. Ask if he’s seen any good trains lately. Tell him you saw a big plane fly overhead as you came to shul or that a fire truck passed by your house recently. You’re sure to get a smile, and you’ll have made him and whoever is with him, usually Jodi or me, feel a little more welcome. Then try it with someone else. Let Holden lead us all to make community gatherings a little more friendly.

Category: Profiles

 

Jamie's Bat Mitzvah: A Different Voice

By Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
October 2, 2013

 Rabbi Keith Stern: What does being a bat mitzvah mean to you?

Jamie: It means that I know a lot about being Jewish. 

Rabbi: What have you done to get ready for your bat mitzvah? 

Jamie: I practiced saying prayers, learned about my Torah portion, went to Gateways, met with the Rabbi, and did a mitzvah project.  

While this may sound like a typical exchange between a rabbi and his pre-bat mitzvah congregant, it is in fact so much more. Jamie Davidge, 13, has cerebral palsy and this conversation consisted of her rabbi asking her questions out loud and Jamie selecting her answers from her augmentative communication device (a computer that speaks for her) that she uses to communicate. 

Jamie’s becoming a bat mitzvah marks the culmination of a journey for the Davidge family, who had to pursue a long and winding path to get to this day. Families of typical Jewish children either enroll them in their congregation’s religious school or send them to day school to receive a Jewish education. They hire a tutor and meet with their clergy to prepare for b’nei mitzvah using the blueprint laid out by their congregation. This system works for most families. But for families with children with more severe needs, the idea of being able to prepare their children for a meaningful ceremony oftentimes seems unrealistic or unattainable. 

Jamie is just one example of how the Greater Boston Jewish community has made an effort to embrace all its community members. In her conversation with her rabbi, Jamie mentioned Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the local central agency for making Jewish education accessible to all Jewish students. Her journey began when her parents learned about Gateways’ Sunday Program which is a self-contained religious school for children who need a more intimate learning environment and are unable to thrive in the synagogue religious school setting. There, Jamie attended classes and was assisted by a one-on-one aide. As she grew to pre-bat mitzvah age, she joined the B’nei Mitzvah Program on Wednesday evenings, where she was part of a small class and worked one-on-one with a Gateways tutor. 

Gateways provided Jamie and her family with a structured program where she received individualized support and differentiated instruction. She was also lucky that Gateways received funding from the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund, enabling her teachers to create a Special Path to Bat Mitzvah, a girl-centric curriculum focused on highlighting strong Jewish women (including women with disabilities) and the contributions they have made. “Jamie was really the impetus that prompted us to apply for the grant,” says Nancy Mager, Director of Gateways’ Jewish Education Programs. “Having her in our program challenged us to identify the unique needs of girls with special needs. We wanted to make accessible to our girls the best of what is out there for typical bat mitzvah aged girls.” 

Although Jamie did not participate in Temple Beth Avodah in Newton’s religious school, she and her family remained connected with the congregation through the process. She submitted a profile to the temple newsletter (like all b’nei mitzvah in the congregation are expected to do), sharing news about her bat mitzvah. 

“Rabbi Keith Stern was an incredible, supportive partner in the process,” recalls Mager. “In our initial meeting [about Jamie’s bat mitzvah], he made it clear that it was important to the synagogue that Jamie felt at home and was celebrated for who she is and what she knows. Her disability was always secondary.” 

“Jamie has been a member of Temple Beth Avodah since she was a baby,” says Rabbi Stern.  “As she has grown up, I have been endlessly amazed by her tenacity and the dedication of her parents. Her excitement over her Bat Mitzvah was positively electric! She showed this with an extraordinary smile and, after every completed prayer, a “Yesher Koach!” straight from her sound board.” 

Understanding and respecting that Jamie’s ceremony would look different than a typical service, Rabbi Stern and the temple staff worked with Gateways’ staff and Jamie’s family to create a ceremony that would enable Jamie to participate meaningfully. This meant restructuring the typical service to include everything she had learned, but in a shorter length of time so Jamie wouldn’t become fatigued; relocating from the large sanctuary to a space that was less intimidating; and using Gateways materials to aid in creating a meaningful dvar Torah.  

“Since Jamie cannot say the prayers herself, instead of using the preset voice of her device, we recorded her sister Anna reciting them,” explains Rebecca Redner, Jamie’s teacher at Gateways. “We recorded Anna at the Davidge’s home with Jamie sitting and listening and grinning the whole time. After each prayer was recorded, Jamie insisted on trying it out. She was delighted with our decision to use her sister’s voice.” 

When asked how she felt when she first learned that she was going to have a bat mitzvah, Jamie said “Confused”. When asked later, she answered “Excited and nervous”.  When her rabbi asked her how she thought she would do on the day of her bat mitzvah, she said “Great!” 

Redner is not surprised. “I always knew how intelligent Jamie was. She was really the one to push us [Gateways] to create a ceremony that showcased her knowledge and passion,” says Redner. “This is a girl who clearly loves praying and being Jewish, and I am so proud that we could help her learn to her greatest potential and enable her to share it with the community.”   

“I am truly awed by Jamie and the effort she expends to express herself,” says Rabbi Stern. “Her siblings and her parents are remarkable people who deserve halos if Jews ever start giving them out. And I am deeply thankful and proud that Jamie knows that she is a part of a congregational family – a place where she was, and will always be, welcomed.” 

Category: Profiles

Tagged under: bat mitzvah, b'nei mitzvah, Davidge, Rebecca Redner, Dynavox

 

Rachel's Bat Mitzvah Journey

By Gateways and Frank Murphy
June 4, 2012

On May 5th, the Gateways community came together to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of a very special student: Rachel Murphy. Rachel is a cheerful girl whose enormous love of music causes her to light up at the first note of a familiar tune.  Rachel has brain damage from a stroke after heart surgery when she was a 2-year-old. She can’t speak, she can’t walk and she has uncontrolled seizures.  Yet, since first enrolling Rachel in 2005, her parents have driven 2 hours round trip to bring her to Gateways’ Sunday Program each week so that she could receive a Jewish education. And in spite of her limitations, and with the support of a Gateways special educator, Rachel has learned. On the day of Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah, her dad, Frank, addressed the large gathering of family and friends at their home synagogue, Temple Beth Torah in Holliston, and these were his words:

Rachel with dad Frank and mom Elisa

Elisa and I wanted to take a moment to say a very big and very heartfelt thank you to all of you for joining us on this very special day. In the next few minutes we’ll try to express in words how moving and how powerful it is just to be here on this very unique day.

As many of you know, especially if you were with us during those early days in the cardiac ICU in Children’s 13 years ago, we never really knew for sure if we would be standing here today.  In the time that’s passed, she’s grown up quickly.  The pictures on the walls of her room have changed from butterflies to…Justin Bieber. Oy vey!! In those 13 years as we’ve faced struggles and obstacles head on, Elisa and I have often been asked: How do you do it?

The answer is simple: it can be found in this room. Look to your left, look to your right. This community of family, friends, care givers, volunteers, school and religious educators have all played some role in helping us not just to survive some medical crisis, but to overcome life’s obstacles, and to grow and thrive in a way that ultimately brings us here today. You’ve all done some sort of good deed in our lives and we thank you for that. There’s a word for that- doing good deeds- it’s called mitzvah and it’s a perfect theme for today.

Rachel reaching for TorahThat’s because today isn’t about putting Rachel on display just to have her push buttons on a screen. Today is about resilience, about accepting life’s limitations and making the best of them anyway, about broadening the view and the value of a Bat Mitzvah.

Think about these words: help, learn, grow. Those are great ways to describe today and the importance of helping and of doing good—doing mitzvot.

But please remember that helping and teaching isn’t just a one-directional activity with Rachel. While each of us has been part of her education, she has, in turn, taught many life lessons. Life skills, they call them at school. Here are three examples:

1.  Be present in the moment. Stop and think, how difficult was it to shut off your phone today? Doing that helps us be present, to be in this special moment before God. Have you ever known Rachel to worry about tomorrow, or next week, or be sad about some event in the past? No. She completely lives in the moment. No filter, no hidden agenda.

When you say hello, she gives you a hug, a real one. They’re great. That ability to always be present and to live in the moment is very powerful. It’s a great lesson.

2.  Next, be flexible and adapt. There have been many adaptations behind the scenes to put this event together today. Her Hebrew School team from Gateways in Newton. Arlene, Nancy, Rebecca, Yarden, this team has worked with us for years to adapt Jewish education and make it accessible to children with all types of disabilities. As the non-Jewish parent in the house, I’ve been able to join Rachel on her educational journey so that I also understand the holidays, the torah and the culture. They’ve helped us adapt as a family so we can pray and celebrate together.

Another adaptation they’ve helped with today is on her Dyanvox device. They’ve helped build programs on it that make the Torah accessible for Rachel. When she sees an image from her prayer book on screen, of a kid covering their eyes, she knows that’s the symbol for the Shema, one of the holiest of prayers. So today is not just pushing buttons, she’s independently calling us to prayer, and leading the congregation.

Click here to learn more about how Gateways helped make Rachel's Bat Mitzvah inclusive and accessible.

3.  The last lesson is to be inclusive: The ultimate symbol of inclusion today is the tallis itself. It has hundreds of fringes, or tzitzit, around the edge. Each one serves as a reminder of God’s many commandments. In our society, when faced with tragedy and disability, kids like my kid can become much like the tzitzit on a tallis, fringes around the edges of our society. By being here today, singing with us, praying with us, each of you has played some inclusive role in our life. So that, in the same way as the tallis itself has fringes and fabric woven together, by celebrating with us today, though we come from different backgrounds and have different abilities, we’re all woven together in celebration.

So on Rachel’s behalf, thank you for coming here today, for doing good deeds and mitzvot, for being part of this inclusive moment, and for helping us most to grow. Hopefully along the way we’ve helped you in return.


Materials that supported Rachel's learning and helped make her Bat Matzvah inclusive and accessible:

Prayers in Picture Symbols »

Prayers with visual supports were created to help make prayers simple, accessible, and understandable for students with a variety of disabilities. In these files, each Hebrew phrase is illustrated by a simple picture symbol (we use Mayer-Johnson Boardmaker symbols). Students with disabilities can follow along with each prayer and learn to understand its meaning using symbol prayers.
  
These files were imported onto Rachel's Dynavox device, and synced with audio files of someone singing the corresponding blessing or prayer. Over the years, Rachel learned to recognize the images that represent the various blessings and prayers, and was able to lead others in prayer by pressing the images, activating the voice output. »»»

https://jgateways.org/cms_content/upload/resources/bnei mitzvah/Rachel's Program.pdf

Bat Mitzvah Service Vocabulary Reference Sheet »

This Bat Mitzvah vocabulary sheet features short and clear explanations of some Bat Mitzvah basics: mitzvah, kippah/yamulka, tallit, bimah, ark, and many more. Rachel comes from an interfaith family, and this sheet was distributed with the program book on the day of her Bat Mitzvah to help everyone in the audience feel comfortable and participate. »»»

Rachel's bat mitzvah service program

Bat Mitzvah Service Program Guide »

Producing a clear and simple service guide like this one, and including it in the program at a child's bar or bat mitzvah, can make the service inclusive of everyone in attendance. Whether intended for the other children in the congregation or for non-Jewish members of an interfaith family, this guide can help everyone follow along and participate in the service. This guide includes a visual representation of the order of the service, and explanation of each part of the service, and an explanation of the Torah's clothes and ornaments. »»»

Category: Profiles

Tagged under: bat mitzvah, b'nei mitzvah, girls, rachel murphy, non-verbal, visual supports, dynavox, synagogue skills, dvar

 

Helena's Triumph: A Special Needs Bat Mitzvah Story

By Deborah Fineblum Raub, for Gateways
June 1, 2012

Helena Schreibman is comfortable at Congregation Mishkan Tefila. After all, each week she takes her Gateways: Access to Jewish Education B’nei Mitzvah classes here, coming in all the way from her home in Winthrop.  Each week she’s worked with her tutor learning to read Hebrew and prayers and each week she’s practiced with her fellow students the fine points of a service such as the blessings and Torah procession.

Helena with Rabbi and her Bat MitzvahBut the 9th grader never thought she’d be having her bat mitzvah here. Her mother’s unexpected passing in April 2009 and a series of conflicts had pushed Helena’s bat mitzvah off again and again at the family’s home congregation, Temple Tifereth Israel in Winthrop. But this time when her dad, Nat, made a date, May 9, 2012, it stuck.

And the event was the product of incredible teamwork. “It really does take a village to raise a child, and this day is proof,” remarked Arlene Remz from the bimah. Remz heads up Gateways, which provides students with special needs like Helena a Jewish education tailored specifically for them.  “The Gateways community has been with you in tough times and has now come to celebrate your bat mitzvah with you,” Remz said.

And celebrate they did. The chapel was filled with Gateways students and their parents, beaming at Helena.  As she led into the opening words of Ma Tovu, Helena looked up with a huge grin when everyone chimed in, the Gateways kids singing the loudest of all.

“Helena, today is a day you and your family and friends have looked forward to for many years,” said Mishkan Tefila Rabbi Leonard Gordon. “I know how much this moment means to you and all you did to make it happen. Helena, your mother, Michelle, would have wanted us to invoke her blessing on this occasion. This ritual marks the fulfillment of one of her hopes ... As the rabbi at Congregation Mishkan Tefila and a friend of Gateways, I am especially delighted to join with your tonight and share our joy in hosting this service. May this be the first of many such moments we share.”

Nancy Mager, who directs Gateways’ Jewish Education Programs and has worked with Helena over the past several years, was the next to speak. “You have such a positive attitude, you make friends wherever you go,” she said, adding that Helena is determined to continue her Jewish Education next year in both the Sunday program and Gateways’ Mitzvah Mensches youth group, where she’s already an active participant.

But on this day, like generations of b’nei mitzvot before her, Helena ducked the candies being thrown her way and the Gateways kids, like generations before them, wasted little time collecting them.

As the congregation moved to the social hall for the celebration, the “village” Remz had referred to was in full flower.  The buffet dinner had been organized by the Mishkan Telfila Sisterhood, the cake was a gift from Helena’s tutor, Michelle Gary, and Schreibman cousin and photographer David Fox manned the camera, while the colorful centerpieces had been crafted at the Mishkan Tefila’s Religious School’s recent Mitzvah Day.

“Everyone did something to make it special for the family and it all came together,” said Laurie Gershkowitz who, along with Sharon Diamond and Diane Jaye, organized the dinner and party. Helena and classmate at her Bat Mitzvah

But none of the behind-the-scenes grown-up planning seemed to matter at the moment. As her Gateways friends lifted Helena high on her chair, she threw back her head and laughed, without an ounce of fear.  

“When I saw her reading and singing up there, I was incredibly proud of her,” said Helena’s teacher at Winthrop High School, Chris Donnelly, who’d made the trek out to witness his student experience her special day. “I was really, really impressed.”

In fact, besides Helena’s father and grandmother, no one beamed brighter than her teachers and her tutor.

“When other kids get up and say the blessings at their bar or bat mitzvah, it’s pretty easy for them,” said tutor Michelle Gary. “But Helena must have practiced the brachas before and after the Torah reading thousands of times over the last couple years. Never once did she get frustrated or give up. And you know what? She did them perfectly. It’s just that most people who heard her could not have known how much went into it. If they did, they would have seen it for what it really was. It really was a triumph.”

Category: Profiles

Tagged under: bat mitzvah, b'nei mitzvah, congregation mishkan tefila