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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels

Lots of Dirty Secrets

Recently my social media feed has been filled with posts about the failings of the Jewish community to effectively include people with special needs. The confluence of the recent annual Jewish Day school conference and February being National Disability Month has contributed to the rhetoric. Sadly, I have been a passionate advocate for inclusion of special needs people for 8 years and I cannot say that the needle has moved much.

Having lived and advocated for inclusion in Israel for 18 months and in NY before then, I believe that I have a good grasp of the challenges on both sides of the pond. In New York City a special needs child receives an unprecedented basket of services that follow your child to any educational environment. In New York, we live in objectively the wealthiest Jewish community in the world. Our schools have resources that other cities cannot imagine. In addition inclusion is done in many countries and our own New York City public school system accommodates for thousands of children with special needs. So why has nothing changed in 8 years since I started advocating for Caily? In Israel, with far less resources, there is a much greater enthusiasm for including special needs children, not only in schools but in many different aspects of life. Inclusion in Israel is far from perfect but is improving all the time based on the willingness of educators to embrace inclusion.

Black children were barred from white schools and universities until segregation was made illegal. Women were barred from voting until it was law. In fact there were many in that time who assumed women has no potential and nothing to contribute to society beyond child rearing!

There is actually Federal and State laws that mandate inclusion such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Sadly, because Jewish day schools don’t directly receive federal funding, they are able to circumvent this law

And the biggest dirty secret of all is that our community as a whole has to stop judging people by the standard “If you are not Harvard perfect please don’t apply” Only when our community truly believes that every life counts and that every person is made in the image of G-d will we see change.

We personally have experienced that a private Jewish Day School on the Upper West slammed the door on our daughter yet schools like Chabad and SAR welcomed us. All schools have objectively abundant resources. Not all schools have the same leadership or moral code.

Honestly think about it and where you stand on the issue. If you care make your thoughts known. The ask is big but it’s the right thing to do.

For perspective on the issues I recommend an article by Jennifer Lazlo Mizrachi, “Jewish Day Schools’ Dirty Little Secret

Originally published: February 18, 2016


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