They aren't all success stories.
Jewish special education is a process and a journey. It would be unfair of me to paint a picture that doesn’t share the struggles and challenges. It took us time to get to the point where we are now, both in scope of what we offer and acceptance of our programs within the school and our synagogue community at large.
I have so much respect for the lay leaders of our community. They have trusted me from my very first day to lead, and have always shared in the vision that everyone is entitled to an appropriate Jewish education. As a result, we have been able to take risks and experiment. I firmly believe that building trusting relationships with families and honest experimentation is what has led us to experience so much success.
But I remember a particularly challenging experience from the the time that we were actively developing our inclusive practices. We had a student who was really struggling to learn Hebrew. Our traditional afternoon model of Hebrew School wasn't working as he had both processing and attention issues. We advocated for him to move into our Alternative Hebrew program so that we could address his individual learning needs. It was the right placement. The class was much smaller and met on Sunday mornings (rather than a weekday afternoon) with a trained teacher and numerous teen madrichim (assistants).
But this student’s mother was unwilling to consider this placement. Her response to my recommendation was that she, "would not put her son in that class with those kids".
I honestly had no idea where to go from there. I think I said something about her statement being untrue and that all students have a right to learn in a supportive and accepting environment. At least I hope I said something like that. The truth is that I really can't remember anything other than her awful statement.
I keep that memory close as I advocate for inclusion. “Those kids” are our kids. “Those kids” are smart and creative and funny and passionate and spiritual and JEWISH.
How did it end? This family did not stay in our synagogue community. It wasn’t a good fit. I wish I could have had the opportunity to help her change her attitude. I wish we could have had the chance to educate her son, because we would have done so successfully. But most of all I wish she could have learned what my community knows; that every child is a precious gift from God.