As a parent of young children, I feel blessed living in Boston. We moved here from Israel and specifically chose the locale based on the Jewish programs and services available. No matter how you observe Judaism, this is a place where you can find your niche. As you probably know, being a parent can significantly alter how you practice Judaism or what it means to you, for that matter. As your children grow and you recall your own childhood memories, you begin to flesh out a new kind of Judaism that reflects who you are today and how you want your children to experience Judaism.
My children both attended a temple nursery school and currently attend one of the fantastic local Jewish day schools. This summer will be my daughter’s first overnight camping experience at a Jewish sleep-away camp. (The possibilities for Jewish experiences are endless here!) But I am lucky that both of my children are—for the most part—typical children and, therefore, there are few obstacles preventing them from enjoying all that Jewish Boston has to offer.
But what about families whose children are not typical and want these same experiences? Can a child with special learning needs enjoy all the Jewish experiences that Boston has to offer?
We are fortunate to be part of a community that is recognized nationally for the innovative programs and services that local Jewish organizations provide. Since I began working at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, I have been astounded by the number of families who feel alone and despair that their child with special needs may not be able to receive a Jewish education. I wish I could reach out and hug each one of them and assure them that there is hope. Our organization alone works with 22 preschools and early learning centers and nine local day schools, providing a plethora of support services to make these schools accessible to students with special learning needs. For families that choose the path of a local Hebrew school, we provide support and training to 35 religious schools across all denominations. And we offer our own independent b’nai mitzvah program for students who need more individualized assistance.
Rachel Chafetz, whose son, Ben, has been a participant in our Sunday program since he was 5, says, “Ben is receiving the gift of a Jewish education, and we in turn are receiving the gift of a Jewish child.”
I love being part of a community that ensures that even its youngest members—all of them—are included and that families of children with special needs have all the same choices for their families as any other family.
For more information, blogs and events about Jewish Disability Awareness Month, please visit JewishBoston.com/disabilitiesresources.