In 2016, Sight Line interviewed Beth Steinberg, Founder and Executive Director of Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Israel, about how disability is a Jewish peoplehood issue. Two years later, and in honor of #JDAIM18, we’ve asked Beth to write us a letter from Jerusalem, sharing with our community what she thinks is the most pressing issue facing advocates of inclusion in Israeli schools.
Imagine this: You’re hosting a dinner party and you’ve pulled out all the stops. The table looks fabulous, the wine is chilled, music is playing softly in the background, and the mouthwatering scents wafting from the kitchen promise a special meal for every carefully selected guest who walks through the door.
Sounds perfect. Until the oven goes on the fritz, the bathroom floods, the soufflé falls, and your guests all cancel on you.
Now, the perfect dinner party of your dreams has failed. You ask yourself: Why bother to try and plan special events, anyway?
A recipe for success calls for a zoomed out perspective—a careful consideration of all factors, not just some. The host of a successful dinner party needs to take a holistic approach and in my personal and professional world, an advocate for successful inclusion in schools does, too.
Another story, but this one true: I recently worked with the mother of a child with special needs who found herself frustrated and heartbroken when many of the “ingredients” for successful inclusion weren’t coming together at her school. While her daughter was coping successfully with the academic challenges of inclusion—she found herself struggling socially. This child played alone in the schoolyard, unable to connect with her schoolmates.
This child’s school, devoted in theory to the cause of inclusion and all the elements that inclusion signifies, had come up short when it came to thinking through the recipe for this child’s social and academic success.
In fact, the critical ingredient for this recipe is the commitment on the part of the school community – teachers, specialists, children and their families—not to just one of the adjustments needed for a truly inclusive school, but to all parts of the whole. This child might have been succeeding academically, but she wasn’t making friends. Therefore, this wasn’t a successful “dinner party.” Not yet.
In this case, an impassioned and heartfelt blog post by the mother in question was read and shared by other parents, and the school recognized the need to take stock, to think creatively, and to ask for help.
That’s when Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem joined the “dinner party.” Two years before, we’d sat at the table with a school inclusion specialist and occupational therapist, during the child’s first year at the school. Back then, what we focused on was how essential it is to start at the beginning.
And what is “the beginning?” The beginning is what happens before a child with special needs even walks through the door of a school. The beginning starts with questions, and conversation.
Here are some questions Shutaf always asks a school, when a school is preparing to welcome a child who will need special services:
Intake forms often only provide a shadowy outline of who a child is. Perhaps a form can tell you a child’s diagnosis and his or her age. Beyond those forms though, there is an actual child – a child who has interests, likes and dislikes, and specific needs. And that child’s family has hopes and aspirations, too.
Here in Jerusalem, inclusion is not (yet) the norm, and parents often pay out of pocket for services in order to cover needs beyond the mandatory in-class-aide-hours covered by the Ministry of Education. This is a tremendous financial burden on families of children with special needs, and Shutaf is working tirelessly to advocate for more state-mandated services.
At the same time, we focus on helping schools learn how to create a sense of welcome for each child. This means making a plan for the teacher and the class, the parent committee (who need to learn and understand the issues more fully), and the teaching staff at all levels, who need the opportunity to reflect personally about their feelings on issues of inclusion, to ask questions, and to make commitments to the inclusion decisions being made as a school community.
Our work at this one school, to help this one child, didn’t mean we had baked a perfect soufflé – not yet – but it did mean we made a first step towards moving forward together, as a community to teach this school—and many others—what it means to see a child, family and experience holistically. The classroom workshops we led were received positively. Those workshops were aimed at exploring the need for caring and understanding between students, and we offered them to two classes, on the grade-level of the child in question.
Our plan is to offer more workshops for more classes in this school, and eventually, also offer some in-depth staff development over the next few months.
To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, it’s one small step for inclusion, one giant leap for a whole community.
The building blocks of a school that successfully includes a child and family with special needs aren’t so different from you might need for a perfect dinner party: planning, commitment, thoughtful preparation, evaluation and assessment.
This is what we call a recipe for long-term success.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project