Category Archives: Blog

The Power of the Right Match


Today I write to share my Letter to the Editor from last week’s New York Times, referencing the Transitions to Work program we developed here in Boston with Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Jewish Vocational Services.   I wrote it in response to a December 25th Times column, “The Power of a Mom’s Love.”

Nothing can match the power of a mother’s love, but we can learn from Laurie Cameron’s tireless quest to find the best educational program for her son.  Just as his school needed to be the right match for his unique needs and abilities, we are learning that vocational programs need to customize their job placements based on both the exact abilities of the employee as well as the exact needs of the employer.  These latter concerns– the needs of the employer– are often neglected in the big matching game that many vocational agencies are trying to figure out how to get right.

–Jay Ruderman

“Link the Disabled to the Job,” New York Times, January 3, 2013

To the Editor:

The Power of a Mom’s Love,” by Joe Nocera (column, Dec. 25), highlights the challenges in creating the most appropriate supports for people with disabilities, including meaningful job training and placement. Too often, job training for people with disabilities is far too rudimentary and does not take into account what a person with disabilities can bring to an organization.

Rather than providing general job training in the hopes that a vacant position will appear, the equation should be flipped and employers should tell training agencies what skills they are seeking, so that specialized training can qualify the person with a disability for the job.

That is what our foundation has tried to do, in partnership with other Jewish service organizations in Boston, in a program called Transitions to Work. The early results are showing success.

Rehovot, Israel, Dec. 26, 2012

The writer is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. 

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Filed under Blog, Employment of People with Disabilities, In the Media

In the Eye of the Beholder


An interesting and enjoyable part of my work at the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF) is reviewing the short videos periodically forwarded to us by colleagues and friends.

This week our colleague Rotem Weiner at Lotem sent us the link to a video from the UK that generated surprising controversy in the RFF team.  Some of us found it deeply touching, while others were more than a little uncomfortable with the messages it conveys about people who are blind.  We find this is often how we learn the most about varying perceptions of disability issues: from honest disagreement among trusted colleagues.

You can view the less-than-two-minute video, “The Power of Words,” here.

What do you think? Does this video impart positive or negative messages about people with disabilities?  We invite you to join our conversation by posting your comment below.

And as we approach the new calendar year, the Ruderman family sends you warm wishes for a fully inclusive 2013.

–Jay Ruderman


Filed under Blog, perceptions of disability, YouTube

Forced to Listen


Today I write with sadness as I hear more news from friends and family in the U.S. about the tragic school shooting in Connecticut.  I cannot imagine the grief engulfing the loved ones of the victims, and indeed the entire community of Newtown.  Shira and I extend our deep condolences to everyone impacted by this terrible event.

The enormous publicity about this event demands that we as disability advocates monitor the messages conveyed by the media about disabilities, and correct any that inaccurately portray people with either neurological disabilities or mental illness.  Media reports suggest the shooter in this case may have carried both diagnoses.

Below I share with you reflections on this moment from Jo Ann Simons, advisor to our foundation and frequent blogger in this space.  She also leads an educational institution and so is especially attuned to the fears we all have for the safety of our schools and our schoolchildren. 

Let us honor the victims by forcing a national conversation on mental illness that is thoughtful, well-informed, and dedicated to preventing future tragedies. 

–Jay Ruderman


Forced to Listen

By Jo Ann Simons, Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation; President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

The television at my home– and in homes throughout the world– has been tuned into the nonstop coverage of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.  I feel it is my duty to listen to the news of the latest investigation of this horrific crime and watch the tributes to the victims. Somehow I feel like I am paying my respects, but mostly I am trying to comfort myself. I am trying to make sense of the senseless. I am trying to convince myself that my children are safe, our students and clients are safe, I am safe, and my country is safe. I am rationalizing that the likelihood of this kind of horrific crime occurring again is unlikely. 

I am kidding myself. These kind of mass shootings are becoming more frequent and yet we have done nothing to reduce the availability of automatic weapons.

But this time something has happened. We have begun a discussion about mental illness, Asperger’s and autism. It has been thoughtful and meaningful. The world is learning what we already know: people with autism and Asperger’s are not prone to violence. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, present from childhood.  People with diagnoses on what is called the “autism spectrum” demonstrate compassion and empathy. They are wonderful sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  They live, play, learn and work successfully among us. In fact, one of the Sandy Hook children had autism and she was slaughtered with her aide and special education teacher. 

We have also learned that mental illness usually develops in the late teen or early adult years, although it sometimes appears in childhood.  Societal stigmas and the gaping lack of services make it difficult to identify and even more difficult to treat. Families feel hopeless and desperate and are often forced to turn to the only remedy available: the criminal justice system.  In this system mental illness typically goes undiagnosed and almost always untreated. 

A national discussion has begun and people who have never been part of it before are showing up to educate us.  Doctors Sanjay Gupta and Mehmet Oz have begun teaching us about the minds of people with mental illness and about distinguishing mental illness from autism. They and many others are calling out to rebuild our mental health system.

Are we listening?

–Jo Ann Simons

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Opening Abraham’s Tent in Baltimore, Delaware, Boston… and Beyond


Today I’m sharing with you an op-ed that ran recently in the Jewish Advocate here in Boston.  It was written by my sister and Ruderman Family Foundation Trustee Sharon Shapiro and our colleague in the struggle for inclusion, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi.  As you see, signs of progress in our community are everywhere.

–Jay Ruderman

Boston sets example for full inclusion of disabled

The Jewish Advocate, November 28, 2012

Recently, we had the honor of participating in an informative and inspiring conference in Baltimore titled, “Opening Abraham’s Tent: The Disability Inclusion Initiative.”  This conference was proof that, finally, the right people are “on the bus” to help ensure that people with disabilities and their families are fully included in Jewish life in communities across North America.  It also validated the model for inclusion that has been developed here in Boston.

The conference resulted from a partnership of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Jewish Funders Network (JFN) and the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH).

The caliber of the people in the room, including top staff from JFNA and many of the largest federations, demonstrated the importance of this issue. These organizations, which collectively raise billions each year to support Jewish causes, can do more for inclusion than any other network in the Jewish community.

An important first step is work done by JFNA’s Disability Committee, which developed the “Four Key Elements of Inclusion,” a framework to guide federations and affiliated agencies to achieve meaningful progress toward inclusion.

  • Accessibility — Ensuring that people with disabilities can access Jewish institutions in our communities and all of the activities held within them.
  • Acceptance — Understanding that each one of us has a role to play so that all people are welcome and can participate in meaningful ways.
  • Accommodation — Adapting and modifying the environment or programming to allow people with disabilities to actively participate.
  • Welcoming — Treating people with disabilities and their families with respect and dignity, while creating a sense of unity within the Jewish community.

Agreeing to these elements was an important milestone, but actions mean more than words, and the commitment to these principles must come from the entirety of our communities.  Therefore, it was meaningful that the gathering included luminaries in the field from all different walks of Jewish life, as well as representatives from the breadth of religious, Jewish social service, and educational organizations.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell, who keynoted the program, is Jewish and served on his local Federation board and as a member of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet.

As chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Markell has focused his efforts on employment issues for individuals with disabilities.  His initiative, A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities is working to bring people with disabilities into the workforce by focusing on their abilities, not their disabilities.  He is meeting with governors and businesses across the country to advance opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market.  During his speech, Markell inspired federations and other Jewish organizations to “walk the walk” and be even more inclusive not only in whom they serve, but also in whom they hire.

In Boston, the Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies has funded groundbreaking initiatives that provide inclusive opportunities for members of our community. Among them are Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, which helps children with disabilities in Greater Boston to access Jewish learning services.  Another program, Transitions, which partners with the Jewish Vocational Service, funds an innovative employment program for young adults with disabilities to obtain job training at a site (Hebrew SeniorLife’s NewBridge on the Charles) that can potentially employ them after training. This pioneering program aims to increase the low employment rates among persons with disabilities.

In addition to these programs, Boston is blessed with agencies, synagogues and initiatives that provide housing, employment, education, friendship, camping, case management and advocacy services to people with disabilities and their families.

It is clear that every Jewish person must be included in order for the Jewish people as a whole to be truly united as one. The work done by CJP and other Jewish philanthropic organizations in Boston is ushering in a new era of accessibility, acceptance, and accommodation to welcome everyone into our Jewish community.

We believe that while much is left to be done, Boston is a model for the full inclusion of people with disabilities.  This is a cue for the rest of the Jewish world not to trail behind.

Sharon Ruderman Shapiro is Vice President of the Ruderman Family Foundation of Newton and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the Founder & President of Laszlo Strategies and co-director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust, which was a cosponsor and funder of the conference.

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Love Grows in Jerusalem: Shalheveth’s “Significant Others” Project


Starting with today’s blog, every so often I’m going to take this opportunity to introduce you to some of the people whom our Foundation has been privileged to help.  I personally find their spirit and their courage inspiring and I hope that, by “meeting” them this way, you do too.

Ari has spent the last nine years in a wheelchair, ever since a brain tumor robbed him of his ability to walk, his musical career and his marriage. But it didn’t rob him of his optimism or his skill as a drummer. Now 41, Ari is one of 13 individuals with disabilities (including one married couple) who make their home in the supportive environment of Shalheveth’s apartments on Jerusalem’s Shimeoni Street.

Supports for these adults with a range of disabilities include a staff social worker, caretakers, job placement services and Shabbat dinners. In addition, kitchens and bathrooms were designed with low sinks and other adaptive fixtures to maximize independence.  “We live here in a community,” says Ari, who’s now able to play the drums on a computerized pad and is a member of the House Organization which makes decisions that impact all the residents.

And now, he’s also learning how to be loving once again. “I knew how to be in a relationship the way I was,” he says, “Now I want to learn how to be a couple the way I am now. And I need advice.”

Our Foundation is now partnering with Shalheveth to give Ari and his fellow residents this kind of advice. The “Significant Others” Project lets them know that disabilities don’t have to keep them from having the kinds of satisfying romantic relationships the rest of us take for granted. They learn how through workshops and one-on-one counseling by both a social worker and a personal coach. In addition, Romantic Interludes, a short documentary film about the project, is airing on Israeli TV, raising awareness of — and sensitivity to — the needs of people with disabilities and their capacity for love and companionship.

“I’ve been hoping to find someone who can be a good friend for the rest of my life,” Ari said. “The counselor is able to answer my questions.  She makes me look at things differently, and a lot more positively.”

— Jay Ruderman

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From Taxis to Computers: Asperger’s Success Comes to Copenhagen


Just in case we begin to think that the challenges of living with disabilities – and the answers we all seek – are somewhat specific to our own place and time, here’s an inspiring story from across the globe (published by Spiegel Online International) that dramatically reminds us of the universal nature of the issue, and the power of community to transform lives.

Here’s the opening paragraph. To see the entire article, click on the link above.

“After working at the CERN research center near Geneva for a decade, where he was part of efforts to understand the origins of the universe, 49-year-old physicist Niels Kjaer returned home to his native Copenhagen. There were no newspaper job listings for people with Ph.D.s in particle physics, and he had no contacts at local universities. Since Kjaer has difficulty interacting with others, he decided to take a job driving a taxi in Copenhagen. “Okay, fine,” he told himself, “I’ll just work the night shift.” Within six months, he was suffering from depression.”

— Jay Ruderman

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What Does the Jewish World Need Now? R-E-S-P-E-C-T

By Jay Ruderman

Dan Brown, founder of eJewish Philanthropy, makes a solid point in this recent piece, that Israel and Israelis need to be more accountable to the Diaspora cousins who are so heavily invested in Israel.

Taking Diaspora views into account when decisions are being made, especially ones that directly impact them, ie the painful “Who is a Jew” controversy a few years back, makes good sense and should be automatic as we think more and more globally about our Jewish family.

Let’s start by really listening to each other and then — even as we celebrate our family ties — respecting the differences in the challenges we face.

Anyone scanning the Jewish press on either side of the ocean these last few weeks since the news of the Beit Shemesh attack surfaced has seen the word “unity” again and again. To achieve this, it helps to sit down and talk to each other with respect.  The Torah points the way for us. In the beginning of Genesis, we see a family of shepherds fusing into a people, each one playing the role needed to support the whole.

Dan takes it a little too far, however, calling for withholding of funds. I believe we can reach an understanding and appreciation of each without such extremes, but instead by engaging in serious dialogue.  Indeed, Israelis in particular could learn a lot if they took the time to really listen to what our Diaspora family is thinking and feeling.

This need to understand and respect each other has never been more pressing,  which is why our Foundation, working with Brandeis University, sends a group of Knesset members to the US each spring. After this experience, these Ruderman Fellows return home with a new awareness of their Diaspora cousins’ Jewish lives, their values, hopes and dreams.

Working together, may we all come to understand, respect and truly appreciate each other and how each one of us can contribute to the Jewish people and the Jewish future.

— Jay Ruderman

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Community/Foundation Partnership Opens Options for Boston Day School Students with Special Learning Needs

Guest Blogger Alan Oliff, Director, Initiative for Day School Excellence,  Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston

While the development of inclusive, high-quality Jewish day schools may appear to be a logical consequence of Jewish values and teachings, in reality it has been more challenging than one might think.  For too many years students with special learning needs have been underserved (or excluded) in our day schools and other Jewish educational programs.

But, in the Boston area, a convergence of family advocacy, professional dedication, community commitment and the visionary leadership of certain philanthropists has resulted in some profound changes, a sea change now occurring in Jewish education.

One of these visionary leaders was Mort Ruderman (z’l) who stands out as a philanthropist whose legacy of goodness, humility, and passionate support for people with disabilities has created transformational changes in Boston and continues to live on in so many ways.  The commitment to special education and inclusion exhibited by the Jewish day schools in Greater Boston and championed by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ (CJP) Initiative for Day School Excellence are powerful examples of Mort’s legacy.

It’s been six years since the birth of the Special Needs Initiative, which was created through a partnership between the Ruderman Family Foundation, CJP, Gateways (a regional Jewish special needs support agency),  and Boston-area day schools.  Without the critical input and support from the Rudermans, the Initiative’s work to support each school’s ability to serve a wide array of learners with challenges – as well as the palpable shifts toward inclusion that have taken place — would simply not have occurred.

CJP’s Day School Initiative focuses on Access as one of its four day school agenda “pillars” (the others are Excellence, Advocacy, and Affordability).  Schools cannot be truly excellent academic institutions if they are not also committed to accessibility to a full range of learners.  To highlight this view CJP’s Special Education Advisory Committee, led by volunteers with a broad range of day school and special education experience, developed a CJP vision statement.  This statement, titled “Community Vision for Serving Students with Special Needs in Greater-Boston’s Jewish Day Schools,” has been widely circulated to send the clear message that including atypical learners is a value that Boston’s Jewish day school communities believe in, support and will strive to achieve.

There are a number of projects currently in process that will go a long way toward making the community vision for serving students with special needs in Boston a true reality.  For example CJP’s partnership with the Ruderman Foundation has led to day school “Partnership grants” and “Sustainability grants”—both programs aimed at strengthening and deepening our schools’ abilities to serve an ever broadening spectrum of learners.  Four Boston area schools have established a solid special needs infrastructure which has paved the way for them to develop more sophistication in the way they serve students.  The Partnership Grants will enable them to create an expanded set of options for students with learning needs and improve the quality of services being offered.  Five Boston area day schools continue their work after building a basic special education program service delivery system.  These schools have qualified for Sustainability Grants which will ensure that the program improvements they have made will not be lost.

So Mort’s legacy continues and grows today.  Now under the leadership of Jay Ruderman, Sharon Shapiro and the Ruderman Family Foundation, the vision is expanding.  Funders from throughout the Jewish community are coming together in support of new initiatives in different locations (in the U.S. and Israel).  It is remarkable how the passion and generosity of one man and a family foundation can spur on so many good things in the Jewish community.

— Alan Oliff

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Hollywood, Harvard and the Special Olympics to Join the Jewish Community to ADVANCE Inclusion of People with Disabilities

By Jay Ruderman

Academy Award-winning actress and champion of people with disabilities Marlee Matlin. Special Olympics CEO Timothy Shriver. Harvard Law School Project on Disability Executive Director Michael Stein. These three powerful speakers will add their voices to the call for inclusion and a better life for all at this year’s ADVANCE Conference on Dec. 6 in New York City.

We’re sponsoring the second annual ADVANCE Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funding Conference in partnership with leading international Jewish organizations. Like last year’s sold-out event. ADVANCE 2011 will bring together leaders from the world of philanthropy to explore creative new approaches to fostering inclusion in the Jewish community and improving the lives of those with disabilities.

This very special day is an open invitation to funders from across the Jewish community to nurture collaboration and creativity in developing new ways to help those with disabilities in our community achieve full independence. As disability services face unprecedented cuts in public funding, philanthropy alone cannot fill the gap, but we can be the incubator for ideas that will lead to better and more effective services.

ADVANCE is a project of the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), and is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known as “The Joint” or JDC), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) of Greater Boston, and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).

In addition to inspiring keynote presentations, we’re looking forward to hands-on workshops featuring such top leaders in disability issues and policy as Alexis Kashar, President of the Jewish Deaf Resource Council, and Steve Eidelman, H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership at the University of Delaware.

 As Andres Spokoiny, President and CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, puts it:  “This conference marks the continuation of a collaboration that has made an improvement in the lives of people with disabilities … At a time when charitable giving is under great pressure and government services can’t be relied upon to meet the need, it is vitally important for funders and organizations committed to and passionate about the goal of inclusion to come together and collaborate on a strategy that can maximize our collective impact.”

 ADVANCE 2011: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Conference takes place on December 6 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Baruch College Conference Center in New York City. Attendance is open to organizations donating a minimum of $25,000 annually or $10,000 to disability-related programs and is capped at 100.  Click here to register online and learn more about the Conference.

— Jay Ruderman

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