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Did you watch our training about how to advance disability inclusion in Jewish education?

More than 200 people registered for the exciting session “Disability Access and Inclusion Training Series for Jewish Organizations and Activists” offered by a coalition of over 40 Jewish organizations. “How to Advance Disability Inclusion in Jewish Education” debunked the long-held belief that the Jewish world did not have educational models for students with disabilities. More than that, it highlighted three of those models, any or all of which might be of use to your community as you grapple with that all-important value of Mi Dor l’Dor – from generation to generation, passing the Torah into the hands of all of our children, and successfully including children with disabilities.

Our three panelists – moderator Meredith Polsky of Matan (sadly, I can claim no relation), Lianne Heller of Sulam and Debbie Niderberg of Hidden Sparks – each introduced us to both the founding stories of their organizations and what this genesis meant for their model.

Meredith Polsky explained how her experience as a summer camp unit head – as we entered the 21st century – showed her the gap between the unique talents of students (and campers) with disabilities, and the way the Jewish world was not yet ready to welcome them. After completing school and acquiring the necessary experience, Meredith founded Matan to enable Jewish professionals, communities, and families to create and sustain inclusive settings in educational, communal, and spiritual aspects of Jewish life. Matan started with a model of working with individual synagogues. The organization now run institutes and training programs for educators at all levels, from lay educators in our religious schools to the educational professionals that run them. If your organization is looking for external training for your professionals in deep educational inclusion, Matan Institute, or one of its webinars may be the place to go.

Lianne Heller told us the story of a group of parents that came together determined to build a place in Jewish day school for their children with disabilities. These dedicated parents created such a program for their children. She shared with us how Sulam has evolved over time to be an integral part of that day school, and now provides high-quality educational, social, and emotional support for students with disabilities, while teaching all stakeholders that everyone belongs and can make vital contributions to the world. A shining success for its community, Sulam also paints a picture of what a group of committed parents and a willing day school partner can achieve together. This might be a perfect model for your own community.

Debbie Niderberg shared how, when she was working in the Jewish philanthropic world, she became aware of the need for inclusion in Jewish day schools and yeshivot. In response, she founded Hidden Sparks. This model focuses on the facilitation of professional development programs and coaching for Jewish day school educators, and coaches internal school leaders to deepen understanding of learning and approaches for teaching all kinds of learners. They are currently in over 110 day schools and Yeshivot, and could conceivably support yours, too.

It was clear from the questions asked that people were looking for these strategies and resources. We can only hope that you will reach out to these organizations, and others like them, as you begin to look at educational success models in your own communities. The rest of our sessions will also help you to figure out how to build a successful model of inclusion in your community.

We hope that you will add to that enthusiasm, by joining for any or all of the remaining five sessions of the series:

You can register at https://www.respectability.org/jewish-events and we encourage you to share the series with anyone whom you think will be interested in including Jews with disabilities.

Please join us in this amazing series, so that together we can supercharge inclusion in our Jewish community.

We’d also like to take this opportunity to invite you to an upcoming, wonderful Shabbat event! Next Friday night (July 10) at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT, we’re having a virtual Shabbat Dinner with Neil and Denise Jacobson. These pioneers of the disability rights movement also were among the first voices in Jewish Inclusion, and we at RespectAbility are privileged to have Neil on our board. They welcome an open discussion on their 50 years of disability rights leadership, including the part of their journey chronicled in the recent masterpiece documentary Crip Camp, now available on Netflix, which we encourage everyone to watch for an introduction to the Jacobson’s and to the disability rights movement.

Zoom is screen reader accessible. Live captions will be provided and an ASL interpreter is available by request.

Please join us in the practice of inclusion and have a Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful 4th of July weekend!

Matan Koch
Director of Respectability California and Jewish Leadership


In our weekly Shabbat Smiles, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Shabbat Smile are those of the guest contributor.

The Shabbat Smile is curated and edited by Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact and Vivian Bass, RespectAbility Executive Committee Board Member. If you would like to write a Shabbat Smile, please email Debbie at DebbieF@RespectAbility.org.

Meet the Author

Matan Koch
Matan Koch

Matan A. Koch is the Director of RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he leads Project Moses, RespectAbility’s Los Angeles-based Jewish leadership project, and is also on the front lines in many other areas of RespectAbility’s work, including: disability inclusion in philanthropy and nonprofits, Jewish outreach and impact, leadership, legal affairs and our continuing Los Angeles expansion.

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