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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels

My Children Need To Know That Not All Jews Are Good

2 years ago Caily was denied the opportunity to attend the Jewish Day School her siblings attend. The school would not meet her, access her or interview her. The school simply discriminated based on her diagnosis of Downs Syndrome!

Being the type A parents we are, we sprung into action and decided we wanted to change the world not just for Caily but for all special needs children. Ironically, Manhattan is objectively the wealthiest Jewish community in the world and one of the most densely populated but there are very limited options for special needs kids in our community to get a Jewish education after age 5.

For 18 months we have campaigned, reached out to communal leadership, held educational forums and engaged the media in our cause. Progress is slow, yet we have met some amazing people who care and are helping us fight for change. We also discovered our enemies!!!!

And the enemies sadly were within the school. Our first call was to warn us that a group of parents had put together a legal fund to make sure that Caily never steps foot ever threshold of the school. My 2 year old really could shake an establishment….

We were warned by a board member that they would cut our funding to my nonprofit. Rabbis that tried to get involved were warned that they would take away funding from their synagogues or that they would lose subsidies for their kids at the school. For us, the most damning comments came from the senior leadership at the school…Imagine being told “Why don’t you just leave her at Chabad?” to which my husband answered “Chabad is not a solution, at age 5 she will have nowhere to go.” The reply you have “3 years. Mashiach will come before then.” My husband challenged this person and said how can someone of your leadership speak to us like this and said what would you do in our situation and this person answered “Send her to a non Jewish school and for Chanukah send her to the school, we will let her light one Chanukah candle maybe two and for Purim we will give her half a humantash”. The person then walked away. Wow! The leadership speaking about your child as though they are a dog!!!!

That was when we went public and decided to share our story. However, I decided to keep my 2 older kids in the school. I felt that if I moved my kids to another school, the school would have a victory. They would do to us what they did to other families – simply get rid of the problem. For 18 months I held strong.

Then Meron started questioning us about the principal. We used Governor Patterson as our example and said people with challenges can achieve but they need people to give them the opportunity. We explained repeatedly that we were hoping the school would allow Caily equal opportunity also. We never said the principal was bad just that he did not understand what was possible. Our sensitive 9 year old wanted more answers. At one point he said “Imma every time I see the principle I want to talk to him about the Caily situation but there are always people around and I am embarrassed”.

We assured him that while we were grateful he cares that we were managing the situation. But it was also my wake up call. One day my son would wake up and be “where was my school, my Rabbi and my community?” What a waste of hundreds of thousands in yeshiva tuition.

As I said, through our journey we have met amazing people and we have also met people who live and practice Judaism in a way we admire. So our decision to move our children is similar to a parent telling their child not to play with the mean kid, the playground bully. So too, we feel need to make a distinction with the kind of people we will have educating our kids!

Originally published: June 28, 2011


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