Posts in category "News"

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 www.slingshotfund.org, 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

 

Listen to Jeremiah Klarman's Open the Gates

By Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
January 17, 2017

Jeremiah KLarman plays the grand pianoGateways is honored to share an original recording of Jeremiah Klarman's soaring 2016 classical musical composition, "Open the Gates," which he wrote for Gateways' 2016 Sweet Sounds event. The piece includes seven variations on the themes of diversity, inclusion and transformation. Listen here.

Open the Gates: Seven Variations on an Original Theme

Open the Gates is a musical representation of Gateways’ commitment to diversity, inclusion and transformation. The piece utilizes each of these three elements. I wrote the piece using the theme-and-variation form, because of its metaphorical significance. The theme represents the core of the work; similar to the core mission of Gateways, it’s simple, concise and inviting. The variations that follow can each be thought of as an individual “gate.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the imagery of gates is not only associated with Gateways, but also with Temple Emanuel; there are “Seven Gates into Temple Emanuel,” hence the seven variations. Each variation represents a different genre of Jewish music.

This is the diversity aspect of the piece; every variation is unique and different, much in the same way that each child who benefits from Gateways is unique and different. Yet, all of the variations are held together by the theme, which represents the aspect of inclusion. Similarly, at Gateways, every child receives a Jewish education and is welcomed into the community, regardless of learning style or capability. This is the “theme” of Gateways. Over the course of the piece, the theme becomes more expansive, and by the end is transformed into a set of celebratory dances, as the gates are opened. I envision this as symbolic of the transformation that children and families experience through the work of Gateways and how everyone is changed by benefiting from the inclusivity and diversity that Gateways offers.

© 2016 Jeremiah Klarman; used with permission of author/composer.

Category: News

 

A Leap of Faith

By Susan Flynn, Associate Editor, Boston Parents Paper
March 5, 2012

Ethan Gottlieb celebrates his recent bar mitzvah with his parents, Robert Gottlieb and Marla Richmond, all of Westford.For Frank Murphy, the likelihood that his daughter would celebrate a bat mitzvah like other Jewish girls her age could be summed up in two words.

“Never. Ever,” he says.

Ten years ago, while recovering from surgery to correct a defect in her heart, Rachel Murphy suffered a stroke and cardiac arrest. She was 2 years old and the lack of oxygen caused irreversible damage to her brain. She lost her ability to walk, speak or eat on her own.

“We went into the hospital with a kid who was healthy and we came out of the hospital with a kid who was completely different. I can’t even begin to tell you what that’s like,” says Murphy. “The only cognitive ability she had before and after surgery was her recognition of music. Music was the one thing that kept her with us – and the guys at Gateways get that.”

Gateways, based in Newton, is a six-year-old nonprofit that provides Jewish religious education to children with learning disabilities – from mild autism disorders to more severe cases like Rachel’s. Every Sunday, Rachel and her father rise at 7 a.m. and drive 45 minutes from Milford to Newton for classes that use picture stories, songs and crafts to make the teachings of Judaism accessible.

Now, when the family celebrates Jewish holidays, they can sing songs Rachel knows by heart. “Without Gateways, she would just be in the room. She wouldn’t be as plugged into our family,” Murphy says.

As she approaches her 13th birthday, Rachel will prepare for a bat mitzvah ceremony, a significant rite of passage for Jewish teens, but one perhaps even more poignant for families like the Murphys.

While federal law mandates that schools must accommodate children with special needs, there are no similar edicts for churches and synagogues, and some parents struggle to find ways to nurture their children’s spiritual needs. Fortunately, over the last decade, many organized religions have taken real steps to welcome all members of a family, even the ones who can’t sit still through a sermon or who scream out at inappropriate times.

All over Massachusetts, religious education curriculums are being modified to reach special needs children where they’re at – developmentally and cognitively. Places steeped in tradition are embracing new technologies, and religious educators say it’s possible – and just as important – to apply the advances made in special education in the schools to help children develop a relationship with God.

“Faith isn’t an intelligence test. There are very few children who can’t understand on some level,” says Cathy Boyle, a Winchester resident who adapted a Catholic religious education curriculum for her autistic son. “I think the churches are starting to realize that there are so many kids with autism and if you turn them away, the families turn away. These kids are the future of our church.”

Rich Robison, executive director of the Boston-based Federation for Children with Special Needs, is also interim pastor at the First Baptist Church in Bedford and the father of two children with Down syndrome. He understands how critical it is for a place of worship to make a child feel welcome.

“A parent can feel terribly wounded and disenfranchised from a community if the very organization you anticipate would profess everyone is welcome is the organization that sets up barriers to exclude,” says Robison. “To some people, it can feel like a punishment from up high. If they can’t accept my child, who will?”

Worldwide Interest in One Mom’s Teachings

At St. Mary’s Parish in Winchester, the secretary says she wishes she had a map to mark with pins all the places from around the country – and the world – that people have called from to inquire about the curriculum that Boyle created. Nebraska, Iowa, Alaska, Northern Ireland and Australia are among them.

After home-schooling her son to ensure that he could make his First Communion, Boyle was approached about teaching a class for children with special needs. She customized an existing curriculum for children like her son who are non-verbal.

Word spread. “If you build it, they will come,” says Boyle. Before long, she was teaching a class of 20 children from 10 different towns. She later traveled throughout the Archdiocese to lead workshops.

Skeptics may question how much the children grasp, but Boyle argues they understand plenty. “The key is to meet them where they are.”

She recalls how one day her son did something he thought was wrong while preparing to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, which involves asking for forgiveness. Instead of using the sign language word for “Sorry,” he signed “God.”

She says she was fortunate to have a priest who supported her son. One Sunday when the Boyles were not there, the priest made note of the fact that an autistic boy was a part of the congregation. “And he said, ‘This boy can be loud sometimes, and that’s all right because faith can be messy,”’ Boyle says. “That kind of backing from the pulpit sends a strong message.”

Exceeding Expectations

Rebecca Redner is a teacher at Gateways who first got involved with its programs as a volunteer one-on-one aide in high school. The experience was so rewarding, she says, that she ended up studying special education at Boston University.

Teen mentors are a key component of Gateways programs, along with small classes and a commitment to tailor programs to individual needs. In addition to classes in Newton, Gateways works with Jewish day schools and individual temples. About 80 percent of the students are on the autism spectrum.

Redner says her students frequently exceed expectations and surprise parents and rabbis with their ability to read Hebrew and grasp the meaning behind Jewish holidays. For instance, while teaching about Passover, Redner showed children the symbolic Seder plate and then began explaining that Passover celebrates Jewish freedom; deeper questions ensued.

“‘Why would God let the Jewish people be slaves if he loved them?’ You never know what they will come up with,” Redner says. “They are always surprising you.”

Marni Smilow Levitt, of Sharon, has two sons enrolled in Gateways programs as students, and another son who volunteers as a one-on-one aide. “Gateways has really become the go-to agency for special education for Jewish children in the Greater Boston area,” she says. “What I really want is for my kids to have a connection to the Jewish community, and that won’t happen unless they have the same opportunities to participate.”

Rabbi Howard Jaffe of Temple Isaiah in Lexington has worked with Gateways to prepare students for bat or bar mitzvah ceremonies, and has found that the children rise to a level higher than anything he imagined.

“I think there has been an awakening in the Jewish community of the responsibility that we have to provide Jewish education to children with special needs,” Jaffe says. “In every instance, Gateways has found a way to reach their child so their child does know what it means to be Jewish. The success is something that allows the parents to know that the kids can succeed in other ways they may not have realized as well. It’s really extraordinary.”


 

Category: News

Tagged under: boston parents paper, murphy, gottlieb, levitt, rebecca redner, press

 

Their Rite of Passage

By Peter Schworm, Boston Globe Staff
January 27, 2008

child wearing tallit and adaptive aids, with tefillin; tutor with hearing aidsphoto by Erik Jacobs/Jacobs Photographic

NEWTON - Tracing his finger across the laminated page, his eyes scanning the Hebrew script, young Noah Bittner chanted a passage from the Torah. He sang softly and slowly, rarely straying from a monotone, but was able to recite an entire Genesis verse without pause, drawing praise from his tutor.

"That was so good, Noah," said Silvia Golijov, raising her hand for a high-five. "I knew you could do it."

Bittner, a 12-year-old with autism, glanced up and gently tapped her hand without a smile, then silently looked back down at the page.

Across the room at Hebrew College, about a dozen children with a range of developmental disabilities worked with individual tutors in preparation for their bar and bat mitzvahs. Students with autism and intellectual impairments learn, to the best of their ability, to read in Hebrew from the Torah and lead the congregation in prayer, and to grasp the principles of their faith and their commitment to it.

Founded in 1999 by parents for children who had trouble attending regular Hebrew school, the weekly hour-long class is the only program in New England that prepares special-needs students to participate in the coming-of-age ceremony. Some practice for two years, painstakingly memorizing the Hebrew alphabet and endlessly reciting verses, for the moment they are called to the Torah.

"For any religious practice to be credible, it has to be accessible to everyone," said Erik Bittner, Noah's father, who created the program for his other son Nathan, a 15-year-old with autism.

The program, which includes a Sunday school for 45 children with special needs, has grown steadily and now draws students across Massachusetts. Twenty students have celebrated bar and bat mitzvahs, and another six plan to take part in the rite of passage this year. Ceremonies vary depending on observances and students' abilities - some students give a brief speech and answer questions from a rabbi, while others read just a short passage.

Arlene Remz, executive director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, a Newton nonprofit group that runs the program, said the classes give students with special needs the chance to achieve a milestone extremely rare among children with disabilities.

"Their parents just assumed they wouldn't participate in Jewish education," she said. "This fills that void."

Nationally, synagogues and Jewish organizations are increasingly reaching out to children with intellectual impairments, said Becca Hornstein, executive director of The Council For Jews With Special Needs and a national expert on the topic.

"It's been exponential," she said.

Synagogues were traditionally reluctant to skirt strict rabbinical rules to make accommodations for children who could not read or recite prayers. But beginning in the 1970s, parents who fought for inclusion in public schools began pressing for expanded opportunities in Jewish education, she said.

But many synagogues remain skeptical, said Scott Sokol, who directs Hebrew College's special education program. "There's a lot of resistance," he said.

"There are a lot of sad stories of parents of children with special needs feeling disenfranchised from their synagogue." With a patient, flexible approach, students with cognitive impairments can learn about faith and find ways to express it, Sokol said.

Bittner said that many people wrongly assume that children like Nathan and Noah are not only unable to prepare for bar mitzvah, they don't want to. But he said both of his sons, who learned Hebrew at a young age, have found comfort and meaning in the classes.

"We have found Nathan and Noah very much want to learn, if it's made accessible and meaningful to them," Bittner said.

Hebrew College is the only college in the country that offers a program in Jewish special education, and several of its students are tutors. Others are volunteers like Rachel Chafetz, a 36-year-old who said introducing special-needs students to the Jewish faith has strengthened her own.

"I learned that everything is possible," she said. She recalled telling a student the Biblical parable of a talking donkey who can see an angel that its master cannot. The student, who has Down syndrome and had his bat mitzvah in June, replied that it was just like the talking donkey in the "Shrek" movies.

Students with special needs, excluded from many everyday experiences, cherish the sense of belonging and kinship that runs through the class, tutors, and parents said.

Josh Beshansky, a 12-year-old with autism, fidgets as he reads aloud from flash cards of Hebrew letters. He then slowly recited a Torah verse, retracing his steps when he realized his mistakes, and celebrating when he finished. "I did it, I did it!" he exclaimed. At the end of the class, students read their Torah portions to the group to practice speaking before a crowd. When it was Noah's turn, he shyly walked to the center of the room, and began to sing.

Leaning over the text, he sang more fully than in practice, with a wider range. After singing the last line, "And Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord," he remained still, his eyes down. When he heard people clapping, he looked up, scanned the crowd, and softly smiled.

Category: News

Tagged under: b'nei mitzvah, Boston Globe