Who We Are
Until the late 1990s, a void existed in the Boston Jewish community for families seeking educational services and supports for children with disabilities. Because of their diverse learning needs, many students could not successfully access synagogue religious school programming or participate in Jewish day schools. Three programs emerged to serve these students.
Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) created and funded the Special Needs Department at the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), which focused on providing professional development, advocacy and grants to Jewish congregational and community schools and preschools. At the same time, two grassroots organizations formed: Etgar L’Noar (Etgar), which served students with moderate-to-severe disabilities, and the Jewish Special Education Collaborative (JSEC), which focused on helping students with learning challenges succeed in day school settings. Etgar launched Sunday Jewish education and B’nei Mitzvah preparation programs and an inclusive youth group (Mitzvah Mensches) and JSEC brought direct support services and professional development to day schools.
During these early years, the three organizations existed in parallel, each having a meaningful impact for individuals and families. In 2006 the Ruderman Family Foundation introduced a vision to make inclusion in Jewish education a top priority for the Boston Jewish community, and, together with CJP, worked to help make this idea a reality. This deeper community commitment to inclusion spurred the boards of Etgar L’Noar and JSEC to merge the two organizations in order to make a broader and more significant community-wide impact. The Ruderman Family Foundation facilitated the creation of this new entity, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, from funding to strategy to implementation, and the Foundation was actively involved at multiple levels, including serving on Gateways’ governing Board and participating in community events. The Foundation’s commitment and vision were essential in making Gateways the organization it is today.
The merger enabled Gateways to expand and deepen its mission, programs and services as well as streamline resources, strengthen governance and fiscal oversight, and create new fundraising opportunities. In 2009, when Gateways was firmly established, CJP folded the BJE’s special education services into Gateways, making it the most comprehensive Jewish special educational organization in North America.
Gateways now serves the entire Jewish community: students, families, day schools, congregational schools and preschools and offers professional development to educators and institutions seeking to build more inclusive practices.
The creation of Gateways gave the Boston Jewish community a strong place from which to build the continuum of services needed to ensure that every student has access to a Jewish education and the opportunity to live a meaningful Jewish life. Gateways continues to work to create an ever more welcoming Jewish educational landscape in Greater Boston and beyond.