Modifying Hebrew Lessons for Students with Disabilities

How to Modify Hebrew Lessons for Students With Disabilities: Removing the Stumbling Block


When we strive to make our religious schools and classrooms more inclusive, the sheer quantity of expectations, strategies and terminology can be overwhelming. So much so that many don't even know how to begin. More often than not, in conversations about religious school inclusion, I am asked to share specific strategies to adapt Hebrew lessons to include children of varying abilities.

A terrific starting point is to focus on the concepts of accommodation and modification and their use in academics for individuals with disabilities as there are distinct differences to their application in a classroom setting.

Here’s a terrific overview:
Accommodation vs. Modification


Accommodation is a strategy used to help a student with learning challenges progress through the same curriculum as his/her peers. Modification is used to help a student with significant learning needs experience the same curriculum as his/her peers.

Teachers in supplemental religious schools often feel untrained and ill-equipped to make this distinction, especially when it comes to Hebrew instruction.

I can already hear these teachers saying, "Ok, so I am teaching the Avot to my students. The Avot is the Avot. I can’t change the liturgy. How can I possibly meet the needs of a wide variety of learners?"

First, I need you to think about a different question: Why are your students learning the Avot? I’ll come back for your answer.

Let’s return to the graphic I shared above. Here’s a little more explanation. We accommodate our students’ learning needs when we allow them to use varying modalities and/or different strategies to meet the same goals as other students. We modify lessons for those students whose goals are different than the rest of the class.

Confused? Don’t be. Here are the examples. (Remember, you are working with the Avot, but you can do this with any prayer, text or Hebrew reading assignment).

Accommodations could include:
·        Providing extra time
·        Listening to a recording
·        Partner reading
·        Breaking the prayer into manageable sections

Modifications could include:
·        Identifying all of the alefs (or whatever letter(s) a student may be currently learning) in the Avot
·        Listening to a variety of prayers being read or chanted and the student identifies the Avot
·        Printing the lines of the Avot on strips of paper and the student arranges them in the correct order (either from memory or while looking at the complete prayer)
·        Finding the Avot each time it appears in your synagogue’s siddur (prayer book).

Before you suggest that any of those modifications won’t work or worse, that such modifications aren’t fair, let’s get back to my initial question: Why are your students learning the Avot?

I hope that your answer included: so that they become familiar with the liturgy, so that they become comfortable with worship, so that they can participate in worship services or so that they can lead part of a worship service. I would agree that those are all meaningful goals for teaching prayer in a supplemental religious school.

Now, look back at the modifications I suggest. Each one of them helps to meet those goals.

Students do not have to all be fluent Hebrew readers. Students do not all have to read & understand Hebrew perfectly. Some may not even read it at all. If our goal is to help our children to develop strong Jewish identities, pride in their heritage and a love of our traditions and faith, who is to say how that should be accomplished?

Go ahead, make accommodations. Modify your lessons. You will enable your students to develop deeper connections to their faith. You may even help to cement their place in the community that supports them.




Each One of Us Counts

Disability is not the defining characteristic of a person; Removing the Stumbling Block

The time on the Jewish calendar between the holidays of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot is reserved for counting the omer. This mitzvah (commandment) derives from the Torah commandment to count forty-nine days beginning from the day on which the Omer, a sacrifice containing a measure of barley, was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, up until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

We use this time for reflection on our journey through the wilderness as we move from freedom to revelation. As such, there are many wonderful commentaries and teachings on what it means to "count". Here are some of my thoughts: Prove that Every Child Counts.

In the coming weeks we will read the Torah portion Bemidbar, a census-taking of the Israelites in the wilderness. The Torah spends intentional time identifying exactly who was counted, listing them by names and by their families. This was a significant way of telling them: “You have names, you have families; you are dignified human beings, you are not objects...you EACH count!”

Too often people with disabilities are referred to by their classification, diagnosis, physical attributes or limitations. We hear people say, “the Autistic boy in my class” or “that girl in the wheelchair”. Even worse, we still hear words like crippled, retarded, handicapped or diseased. These words and statements are demeaning; undermining individuals for who they truly are.

It should be our goal to move away from the disability as the primary, defining characteristic of an individual, and rather recognize it as but one of several aspects of a whole person.

This sums it up nicely, I think: 


The importance of names in disability inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

As we relieve our journey through the wilderness, as we count the omer, let us remember God’s message to the Israelites, for it is still a message that we must embrace today:

 “You each count.”

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