Posts in category "Reflections & Perspectives"

Finding Strength in Times of Transition

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
January 8, 2021

This week, the transition from the end of 2020 to the beginning of 2021 has coincided with a transition in the reading of the Torah, as we finish one book and begin the next. In this video message, I reflect on the words that we say when we enter these moments of transition in the Torah: chazak, chazak v'nitchazek—be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

Sharing the story of our 89th B'nei Mitzvah

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
December 23, 2020

This past year has changed the landscape of reality, of normalcy, for so many of us. Faced with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, Gateways pivoted to continue serving our students and families through it all. As schools were closing their doors, we bolstered our online programs and provided therapy services remotely. As educators worked to meet new student needs, our therapists and coaches developed new strategies to help them. And as countless celebrations were postponed, the Gateways B’nei Mitzvah program held its 89th simchah—celebration—with our virtual community.

The story of our 89th bar Mitzvah is a truly special one. For so many of us, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a significant milestone that brings our family and community together. We come together to recognize this young adult coming of age in the tradition of our Jewish heritage. With such an important moment on the horizon, you can imagine the excitement—and subsequent disappointment—of many families who prepared for such an occasion for months or even years, only to be forced to drastically revise their plans due to the pandemic.

Now we come to Yair*, our 89th B’nei Mitzvah celebration. Yair worked painstakingly in our B’nei Mitzvah program to prepare for his precious milestone. His family has all said the same thing: between the pandemic and Yair’s personal struggles, they truly thought that their family would never be able to take part in a meaningful Bar Mitzvah experience.

How did we make this possible? Gateways educators and a professional tutor worked individually with Yair to learn the prayers and the parshah—the weekly Torah portion—for his Bar Mitzvah. Not only did they work with him on these recitations, but they worked together with Yair to compose and revise his d’var Torah—a personal story connected to the parshah. Our staff also collaborated with his synagogue to help plan the structure of the service and helped them prepare Yair for his celebration.

tactile book for prayer reminders

Through the relationships our educators had built with Yair, they tailored this virtual gathering with an entire community to embrace Yair as he entered the realm of Jewish adulthood. To shape the service to his interests and needs, he accompanied the rabbi during much of the morning service on the piano. Yair even wrote a new song for his Bar Mitzvah: a jazzy composition inspired by the words of Yotzeir Or (Creator of Light). Everyone was glued to their computer screens, dancing and rejoicing over the wide smile on Yair’s face as he achieved this new milestone in his life.

As we make our way through these tumultuous times, there is one constant that our families can count on. Gateways will always adapt and create ways to ensure no child is left out of our Jewish tradition. On behalf of the hundreds of families and children who are able to learn and grow in our life-changing programs, thank you for your ongoing generosity.

*name has been changed to preserve privacy

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: b'nei mitzvah

 

Dispelling the Darkness

By Tamar Davis
December 11, 2020

One of the things I love about Hanukkah is how we add to the number of candles we light each night. Seeing the aura of light grow stronger and stronger as it dispels the darkness around us fills me with hope. During this Hanukkah season, when so many of us are celebrating apart from family and friends, it is especially important to remember how powerful each candle can be in dispelling loneliness and fear. We are each lights in our community, and when we take a moment and reach out to others who might be alone or struggling, we become even stronger.

At Gateways, we are working to amplify that light—to extend our hands to our community in a time of disconnection. For example, when we decided to "go remote" for our Sunday and B'nei Mitzvah programs, we stayed in touch with the families of students who have more trouble accessing our program online, sending them messages and Hanukkah gifts.

This is why I quoted Rav Soloveitchik in my remarks at Sweet Sounds (see the video above!), and why I say it again now: "It is a privilege and a pleasure to belong to such a prayerful, charitable, teaching community, which feels the breath of eternity."

May the light of Hanukkah continue to spark hope and connection within our community, especially during this time.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Hanukkah sameach.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: hanukkah

 

Thanking Before We Think

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
December 4, 2020

Dear Friends,

I hope you had a lovely and restful Thanksgiving, even if it felt very different than years past! In the spirit of Thanksgiving and my message last week when I reflected on the insight of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l that, in Judaism, “we thank before we think,” I want to dedicate this space to the purpose of thanking the hundreds of you who joined me at Gateways’ first-ever virtual Sweet Sounds. And most especially, I want to thank each student, volunteer, donor, lay leader, educator, and staff member who helped make this event possible. I can’t begin to tell you what a herculean task it was to put together a program that showed the breadth and depth of what Gateways does in a way that was personal and meaningful, and to somehow convey all this through your computer screen.

We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and responses to every part of virtual Sweet Sounds, from moving video submissions, to generous donations, to enthusiastic offers to host our mini "Sweet Salons."

After watching Sweet Sounds, one long-time supporter wrote me a note saying, “We were just blown away by tonight’s virtual Sweet Sounds. We have been going live to the event for many years. This was so very special. I have to admit I cried through most of it!” And another new supporter wrote, “This was a wonderfully put together program and very inspirational. Your teachers and volunteers show such dedication and personal involvement and those receiving the benefits are so proud of their own accomplishments. Thank you for the opportunity to watch and be educated about this great organization.”

There is no adequate way to truly express our gratitude. Normally, the name of every person who helped make Sweet Sounds possible would have been listed in a printed program that we distribute in person at the event. Since we couldn’t do that, we wanted to list those names here. I hope you’ll take a moment to read these names, as each of these people has helped ensure that Gateways can remain steadfast in our mission, no matter what challenges come our way.

May you each continue to go mechayil el chayil – from strength to strength.

Todah rabah and Shabbat shalom,

Tamar Davis
Chief Executive Officer

P.S. While Sweet Sounds 2020 is now behind us, if you haven’t sent in your gift yet, you can still do so here!

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

 

Speaking Publicly About My Disability

By Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer
August 21, 2020

 
Dear Friends,

It was overwhelming and heartening to see how many of you took time to watch my first video message two weeks ago—and thank you for welcoming me so warmly to my new role as CEO of Gateways. In my desire to get to know you and continue the imperative communal conversation about inclusion on behalf of all our children, I plan to use this space on two Fridays each month to share various thoughts, learning moments, and Gateways highlights with you.

It may seem logical that—considering the job I just took on (finishing my third week today!)—I would naturally feel comfortable talking about my own personal disability, and my experiences of advocating for myself in the Jewish community and beyond. However, this was most definitely not the case until well into adulthood. That first occasion where I spoke publicly about my personal journey of navigating our world with severe hearing loss was a life-defining moment that led me to where I am today at Gateways.

It was in 2011 when I was asked to speak one Shabbat afternoon as part of a “getting to know your neighbor” speaker series at my synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I was living at the time. I entitled my speech, “To Hear or Not to Hear: What Was the Question?” What still amazes me most about that first time was the sheer number of people who attended that afternoon. Typically, about 100 people came to synagogue on Shabbat afternoons, but the day I spoke, over 300 people showed up. Afterwards, there were three main themes to people’s responses to me: many gained new insight on what it means to live with a disability, others were inspired (but not necessarily to action), and some even expressed how they didn’t feel comfortable talking about their own or a family member’s disability.

This experience was incredibly enlightening for me. I grew to understand that while we all want our communities and schools to be inclusive, all too often, we don’t realize how inherently non-inclusive our communities are until we hear a first-hand account of what a person with a disability is experiencing. I know now that my personal story is bigger than just me, and it needs to be told as part of the movement for inclusion in our society. 

From then on, I always said yes whenever I was asked to speak at other synagogues and with community leaders from my perspective as a person with a disability. In addition, I adapted my talk to include actionable insights, and to share practical steps on how a community can become more inclusive to all who want to access Jewish life.

I never dreamed that I would be adapting my talk to share a new perspective when I became a parent of a child with a disability (different from mine). And I certainly never dreamed that I would become the leader of an organization with a mission to advocate for inclusion for all of our community’s children, regardless of disability or diverse learning needs. How appropriate that in this week’s Torah portion reads the famed verse, “צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף” (Tzedek tzedek tirdof), “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). What a clear call to action that we cannot desist in our efforts to create and sustain a just world, a world where every child has equal access to what they need to grow and thrive.

I meant every word I said in my video message, and I’ll say it again here: I want to hear from you, understand your thoughts about inclusion, and learn how Gateways can continue being a beacon of hope for our children in their path to becoming meaningful participants in Jewish life and learning. I always welcome your responses.

Wishing you continued good health and Shabbat shalom,

Tamar

Category: Reflections & Perspectives