A few years ago I was approached by the parent of a teen from my congregation who wanted her son to get involved in our local region of NFTY (The North American Federation of Temple Youth). We encourage all of our teens to participate in the various events each year, so it should not have really been a question of “could he” but rather just a statement of fact. But her son has autism, and so she was wondering if and how it might work.
As an inclusive congregation we realize that there are other congregations and organizations that are not yet as inclusive as we are, but we typically hope to raise their bar by demonstrating what we do successfully and offering the support necessary to make it happen. We are never certain what the response will be, but we are always optimistic and hopeful.
In this case, I wasn’t really worried. My call was to Pamela Schuller, the Regional Director of Youth Engagement for NFTY-GER, and I knew she would figure out how to make it possible for this young man to join the region. And she did. From hiring one-on-one support to managing medication to adapting programs as necessary, Pam confidently and seamlessly did what was necessary to be sure this teen could be included. So much so that after four years in NFTY-GER, this teen traveled with me and others from our congregation to Atlanta, Georgia this past February for the NFTY National Convention. And Pam made sure that was seamless, too.
This isn’t just one story; it was the same for a student of our congregation with emotional and anxiety issues and one with learning disabilities and so many others. Pam’s philosophy of “Yes, And” is one I share, and it is deeply rooted in the notion that each one of these kids makes our community stronger. It’s never about what has to change for them. It’s always about how their presence will enrich the experience for everyone (knowing that support is always necessary). Pam is an amazing partner and I’ve begun to take it a little bit for granted that all of our kids will be included. And that’s a good thing. To feel confident enough to assume that inclusion will happen is truly a blessing.
About a week ago the following video went viral:
I Am Here, Hear Me Bark: Comedy, Disability and the Inclusive Synagogue
Pam gets it. She truly gets it. The parent of the teen in this story said it perfectly: “Knew she was great and incredible for [my son]. Had no idea how awesome she is period!”