The op-ed below originally appeared on the Jim Joseph Foundation blog. Our foundation is a partner in the B’Yadenu project highlighted in the post.
By: Dr. Alan Oliff
Recently I found myself stuck in an elevator at the Jewish Day School Conference. While I am not particularly claustrophobic it seemed to take a long time to figure out how to get out of the elevator. You feel a bit alone when no one else is with you and wondering whether anyone in the outside world will be there for you. I shared this incident with my colleagues on the B’Yadenu project in Boston, a special needs inclusion initiative implemented by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the Yeshiva University Institute for University-School Partnership, and six Boston-area Jewish day schools. Waiting alone in that elevator made me think of those with disabilities that are waiting to be embraced in their Jewish communities. Many of them are still waiting to feel included by educational programs and key Jewish institutions.
The B’Yadenu team decided it didn’t want this wait to persist. We are implementing a Jewish day school project (funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Ruderman Family Foundation) on whole school change for supporting the success of all learners. We collaborate with each school to support them in a better understanding of their school’s infrastructure and approach towards diverse learners. Each school is responsible for developing a plan for professional development, training programs, and other activities to build the capacity of teachers and school leaders to educate students with a wide range of learning needs.
While we all have much to do in our communities to end this “wait,” our project is one example of action beginning to take place in Jewish day schools and institutions across the country. There is an increased understanding by individuals and organizations that every young Jew should have access to meaningful Jewish learning experiences. While waiting can feel interminable, putting an end to the “wait” is satisfying. For us, the “wait” will be over when we extend to every Jew an inclusive opportunity to get involved and engaged in Jewish life in their community.
B’Yadenu is a small part of the effort to vigorously respond to this critical need. It is focused on change on scale across a number of day schools. While this is an initial but significant step, large scale change in all aspects of Jewish life is necessary to truly end the “wait.”
My wait ended when the elevator doors were pushed open and I was allowed to charge off to a meeting…late but pleased to be included once again. We must think creatively and collaborate to create the conditions so that the “wait” also ends for special needs learners in our communities.
Dr. Alan Oliff is the Director of the Initiative for Day School Excellence, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston, MA. Dr. Oliff serves as the Manager for the B’Yadenu Project, a special needs inclusion initiative.