Howard Blas - 2013 Award Recipient
Howard Blas, Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, is driven by a passion for inclusive community - one that embraces and offers Jewish educational opportunity and growth to all, including those with developmental disabilities and their families.
“My work in the field of Jewish special needs camping and education has made me keenly aware of the feelings of isolation and disconnect people with special needs often feel. My goal is to continue to develop ways to engage campers and family members all year round, to utilize technology to benefit campers and professionals, to train others, and to contribute to the growing body of literature in this field.”
While Howard’s entire professional career has been in the Jewish disabilities world, things may have been different had it not been for the summer of 1984. That summer, between Howard’s freshman and sophomore year of college, he worked at Camp Ramah in New England. “Although I had planned to work in the kitchen, the Assistant Director asked me to work as a counselor in the Tikvah Program, serving campers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Little did I know that this experience would change my life. I observed our campers learning about Israel, singing songs, and dancing—just like every other member of the Ramah community—simply by being immersed in a powerful, all-encompassing Jewish learning and living environment,” he said.
Howard continued to work with children and families during graduate school, as an early childhood/family educator at the Park Avenue Synagogue, and reflected that his “experience working with young children and their parents, coupled with my classroom teaching, were constant reminders that each learner requires and deserves a teaching approach geared toward his or her learning style and temperament.”
In 2011, Howard became the Special Needs Consultant to the National Ramah Commission. In addition to his work with Ramah, Howard has served in a leadership capacity in Jewish communal settings across the United States, supporting lay leaders and professional staff in the creation of disabilities programs and policies. He consults with camps, schools, and Jewish educational institutions as they strive to include students with disabilities. He continues to teach Jewish Studies to learners with diverse learning styles and prepares students with a wide range of disabilities for b’nai mitzvah. Through webinars and presentations at Limmud and various conferences, Howard teaches teachers about b’nai mitzvah for diverse learners.
Howard earned a B.A. from Washington University, an M.S.W. from the Columbia University School of Social Work, and an M.A. in Special Education from Bank Street College of Education. He also earned a Certificate in Post-Masters Training in Family Therapy from Family Studies, Inc.
Howard is currently visiting and researching businesses in the United States which offer innovative employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The results of his study will be shared later this year.
From His Letters of Nomination and Support
“Howard is a transformative leader and teacher. He envisions people with special needs integrated into the fabric of Jewish life and does not hesitate to challenge assumptions to attain that goal. Howard’s vision and his leadership are infused by his love and knowledge of Jewish values. This program has been instrumental in disseminating the attitude that everyone has a place in the Jewish community. He inspires everyone in our community to see each other b’tzelem Elokim, in God’s image.”
National Ramah Special Needs Network
“About ten years ago, while at a conference about learning disabilities, I overheard a woman talking about the challenge of finding someone to work with her son who had disabilities to prepare him to become a Bar Mitzvah. Another Mom enthusiastically responded that she had found a ‘miracle worker,’ an observant Jewish man who was also ‘cool.’ He worked with her son around his strengths, teaching him what it meant to be Jewish and to have a Bar Mitzvah. I could hardly contain myself. I turned around and asked for this man’s name, and she told me – Howard Blas. Little did I know that over the next ten years, this warm, intelligent, inspirational man, committed to Jewish education for all, would change the course of my then 10-year-old son’s life.”
Leslie Epstein Pearson
Learning Resource Network, Jewish Board of Family & Children’s Services