By Guest Blogger Arlene Remz, Executive Director of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education
I stopped by the Ellenbogens’ a few weeks ago. They live in nearby Sharon and, with six children, the house is a hive of activity and comings and goings, especially on a rainy summer afternoon.
Eight-year-old Binny and his younger brother, 6-year-old Yishai, were in the basement consumed with a video game that was moving so quickly that I couldn’t make much sense of it, let alone take the controls that Binny so generously offered me.
When I settled onto the couch with his mom, Binny followed behind. He was determined to socialize, and promptly gave me the details of a recent visit to Israel, counted in Hebrew, shared his dream of being a firefighter, and read us a book about traffic jams.
This is a typical 8-year-old charmer, right? Yes, so right. And no matter that Binny has Down syndrome.
One could not possibly look at him only as a child with limitations, but as one with a wealth of possibilities. That very fact speaks loudly of a Jewish community that has embraced and included him as it would any other.
Binny is entering the third grade this year at Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon (SHAS), one of 13 Jewish day schools in the Boston area where Gateways supports the inclusion of students with special learning needs, ensuring that they receive a Jewish education.
By all accounts and by every measure, Binny is succeeding academically and socially as he matures in the Jewish identity that is so nurtured in his home and synagogue.
In our region, parents of children with special needs who want a Jewish education for their child are lucky. Here we have Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, working in partnership with area day schools, synagogue schools, preschools and other institutions to make this possible.
Jewish education and access for students with special needs are high on the agenda of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), our Jewish federation. And The Ruderman Family Foundation and other philanthropists recognize the importance – indeed the right – of Jewish families to find a welcoming and accommodating Jewish educational environment for their children, regardless of their learning style.
And Gateways is not just delivering services, but showing the community and educators and philanthropists locally and nationally that it is possible to include children with disabilities in Jewish school programs, with support both inside and outside the classroom. This benefits everyone and gives true meaning to the notion of Jewish community.
What we’re seeing is that special education is really just good education. If all education were done with knowledge that everyone has different ways of learning, then many students with special needs would benefit from what is good for all, and vice versa.
Observe Binny in the classroom and among his friends. He’s a kid with his own challenges. Just like everyone else. Perhaps he will be a firefighter. But there is no doubt that he will be a full and active participant in the Jewish community. He already is.