Why I Chose Special Education

Why I Chose Special Education; Removing the Stumbling Block

When I lead a workshop or presentation on Jewish disability inclusion and education, I begin with a little background about myself. I share the obvious credentials of where I went to college (Rutgers), where I got my Master’s degree (again, Rutgers) and where I have worked. But I also really like to share the Jewish part of my path, because I’m a NFTY kid through and through.

NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth, is the Reform Movement’s national youth organization, and my participation throughout high school helped to shape me into the adult I am today. 

At the age of seventeen my parents gave me a significant opportunity, and it was truly a life-changing experience. I spent six weeks of the summer between my Junior and Senior years of high school participating in NFTY’s Urban Mitzvah Corps, a program designed to “provide participants with an authentic opportunity to explore their Jewish identities through the lens of social justice and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world).” Participants in this program choose jobs sites and volunteer their time. Together we built a community that made a difference in the lives of the mentally and physically challenged, the underprivileged and the elderly. Our evenings were spent learning, enjoying social activities, and discussing current social justice issues. And, of course, as a Jewish community, our weekly celebration of Shabbat was a highlight.

My job sites were the New Brunswick inner-city parks & recreation program and Camp Daisy, a day camp for children with developmental disabilities. Daisy was my first experience with individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. All these years later, and I can still picture, like it was yesterday, the joy of splashing in the lake with my campers.

Three weeks at Camp Daisy and that was it. I was hooked. 

So after years teaching special education in New Jersey public schools, I jumped at the chance to shift into the role of a Jewish professional within the Reform Movement, knowing I would once again get to be a part of such life-changing experiences - except this time, I would be able to bring them to others. It was like coming home.

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