Gateways: Access to Jewish Education teamed up with Behrman House Publishers to publish a haggadah for children with special needs. The haggadah utilizes over 150 picture communication symbols developed by Mayer-Johnson™, the leading creator of symbol-adapted special education materials that assist individuals in overcoming speech, language and learning challenges.
The haggadah began several years earlier as an in-house learning tool for Gateways’ Sunday Program students. “I created the haggadah to help students at Gateways, who have a range of disabilities, understand and participate in Passover Seders with their families,” explains the book’s author, Rebecca Redner.
Redner, a curriculum specialist and educator at Gateways was delighted when conversations to publish the book with Behrman House began. “If this haggadah had only been used to enrich the Passover celebrations of our Gateways students and their families, dayeinu, it would have been enough,” says Redner. “But now we have the incredible opportunity to share our haggadah with families and educators everywhere, giving them the chance to make Passover accessible and meaningful for their own children. It’s overwhelming to imagine the impact our haggadah could have on students and their families across the country.”
In addition to picture symbols for blessings and songs, step-by-step photographs are also used to illustrate what to do throughout the Seder. “We were excited to be able to work with a local photographer (Jordyn Rozensky) and use students in our programs for the photos,” says Nancy Mager, Gateways Director of Jewish Education Programs. “We wanted to show children in the photos with and without visible disabilities – just like how any Jewish family might look. We especially wanted to give families who have children with disabilities a haggadah that they felt was a representation of their family.”
Binny, one of the models in the photo shoot, is a student at Striar Hebrew Academy of Sharon. A student with down syndrome, Binny receives support from a team comprised of day school staff and Gateways professionals. When asked to be part of the photo shoot for the haggadah, Binny was elated. Recollecting his experience, he says “I didn’t really like this, but I had to smell the horseradish.” When asked why he did not enjoy posing for his shot with the horseradish, he explained: “You know, the horseradish is like the saltwater and it reminds us of being a slave. And it’s gross.” The editorial team decided to include a shot in the haggadah of Binny’s reaction to the strong smell – with the assumption that most children could identify with that.
“Behrman House has published over a dozen haggadahs in the firm’s 95-year history – all of them different, yet this is our first one specifically designed to include children with disabilities,” said David Behrman, President of Behrman House.
“We were delighted when Arlene Remz and the Gateways organization approached us to collaborate with them in publishing The Gateways Haggadah, thus advancing their mission and ours in providing high quality materials for diverse learners to participate meaningfully in Jewish life. ”
While created with children with special needs in mind, the haggadah is also useful for families with young children. When Gateways students took their haggadahs home for Passover, staff received feedback that the entire families had benefitted from it, from grandparents who never understood the Hebrew words that they had read all their lives, to younger siblings who were still learning how to read. Redner explains “It was designed to be appropriate for students with a wide range of abilities, including students who are not able to read. The photographs and symbols that make the haggadah accessible to students with disabilities also make it appealing for younger pre-readers who are preparing for their first Seders – and for anyone who is not familiar with Hebrew.” The haggadah is also ideal for visual thinkers because the illustrations are just as important as the text. Every action of the Seder is illustrated with a photograph, and the meaning of each prayer is illuminated with Mayer Johnson Picture Communication symbols. This combination of photographs and picture symbols engages children, helps them to participate in the Seder, and increases their understanding of what’s going on.
The haggadah also explains the process of the Seder, including tips for children throughout the book.
The executive director of Gateways, Arlene Remz explains that “just as our organization aims to make Jewish education accessible for all Jewish students, we also wanted to create a haggadah that would make everyone feel like they have a place at the Passover table. The Gateways Haggadah truly is a Seder for the whole family.”
The haggadah is available to order online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and can be ordered directly from Behrman House at www.behrmanhouse.com/store/product-sku/929.