Nothing Goes to Waste

Inclusion is a mindset; Removing the Stumbling Block

I have had the good fortune of connecting with many wonderful bloggers who care deeply about the inclusion of people with disabilities. I am always honored to write guest posts for and collaborate with these amazing advocates. So I jumped when such an opportunity came from Snappin' Ministries. I have said often that to be truly inclusive we must model it in all aspects of our lives. And so I think it is wonderfully significant that a Christian ministry, dedicated to supporting people with disabilities, eagerly shared a teaching from a Jewish educator. We need more of this in our world. 
 
“But Moses said to God, ‘Please, God, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ And God said to Moses, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind?  Is it not I, the Eternal?’”
(Exodus 4:10-11)

It might have been easy for God to say, “You know what, Moses, you’re right. I am asking too much of you.” 

It might have been easy for God to say, “You know what, Moses, give it a shot and if it’s too hard, we’ll find someone else.”

It might have been easy for God to say, “OK, Moses, your brother, Aaron can do it.” (Instead)

It might have been easy for God to underestimate Moses’ abilities, but he didn’t. God believed in Moses and reassured him by reminding him that God’s choices are perfect. In fact, God designated Aaron to speak for Moses when he was unable, as his aide, and thus demonstrated the first formal act of true inclusion seen in the Bible.

Too often we underestimate others abilities. Too often we fail to presume competence.

Haven’t you done it? Given in too easily when someone in our care complains that what we are asking is just too much? How often is it easier to just let a sibling complete the task? How many times have we given up due to our own frustrations? How often have we neglected to even ask?

Inclusion is a mindset. It is a way of thinking. It is not a program that we run or a classroom in our school or a favor we do for someone. Inclusion is who we are. It is who we must strive to be.

To be inclusive we must presume competence. To be inclusive we must recognize each person’s right to belong. To be inclusive we must recognize the gift that each and every person brings to the world. 

The moral of the story: Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. In this world, nothing goes to waste. Each and every perceived flaw is truly a blessing in disguise. 

To read the original article, please visit Comfort in the Midst of Chaos

It Is NEVER Ok To Use Disability As An Insult



words matter disability semantics

Our words matter. 

Remember the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."? Not true. Not true at all. 

Words can hurt. A lot. And there is real potential for lasting harm. It's not just semantics.

So when I learned that an official in the Obama administration referred to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu as "Aspergery", I was relieved to see this statement from Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation:

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

The full statement from the Ruderman Family Foundation can be found here and on Businesswire. The original article by Jeffrey Goldberg can be found here.


Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys, Attention Deficits and Stereotypes



My friends at The Inclusive Class posted the following visual on Facebook:


ADD ADHD Girls Stereotypes Behavior


It resonated, but I found myself thinking much more about stereotypes than disabilities. 

You’ve done it, haven’t you? Referred to girls as “chatty”, categorized their behavior as “drama” or blamed the way she is acting on “hormones”? I certainly have. And there may well be truth to each of those descriptions. But we do our children a disservice when we simply use stereotypes to explain away their behavior. 

Reflecting on Inclusion - A High Holy Day Writing Round-Up



Saying that the high holy day season is a busy time of year for Jewish professionals is a little like suggesting that a school teacher has a “few things to do” in the week leading up to the opening of school; it’s truly a profound understatement. The holy days require many hours of thoughtful preparation in writing, teaching, cooking, cleaning and so much more. We work to prepare our children & families, our teachers & students, our many congregants; not to mention that we must somehow find the time to prepare ourselves.

Participating in #BlogElul was my personal preparation. And yet, as I look back on a month of daily writing, I must admit that some of it feels like a blur. At times, I found myself struggling to meet self-imposed deadlines, let alone also managing to keep up with some of the wonderful things written by my colleagues.

So today, as we head into Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year which brings opportunities for deep introspection, I share a short round-up of the pieces that I feel are most worth reading (or re-reading) as you finish your preparations:

The Inclusion Confession by Rabbi Rebecca Schorr




And one more thought from my wise friend and colleague, Rabbi Ken Carr:
"Fasting on Yom Kippur is a call to a higher level of ethical behavior. It is a signal to recognize the responsibility we bear to other people. It is a shofar blast awakening us to our ability to improve the lives of those who need our help. This true fast is not easy, certainly not as easy as simply not eating and drinking. If our fasting is easy, then the fast will not have served its real purpose. So let us not wish each other a tzom kal, an easy fast; instead, let us wish each other a tzom tov, a good fast, a productive fast, a meaningful fast that leads us to action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves."

I wish each of you a tzom tov, a good fast. May this be a meaningful holiday for those who observe.

What Are Your Hopes for the Year Ahead?




What Are Your Hopes for the Year Ahead? Removing the Stumbling Block

The New Year is upon us. I hope for us all that this will be a year of inclusive opportunities, filled with meaningful relationships, laughter, fun and lasting memories.

I hope that this can be a year of lighting sparks rather than filling vessels. I hope that we will explore, discover, engage, debate, struggle, persevere and grow.

I hope that we can embrace learning for its own sake and recognize that learning is life-long.

I hope that this is a year filled with joy and wonder for our children and that we are able to step back from the hectic routines to let them experience it all.

What Are Your Hopes for the Year Ahead?



This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 

You Are You



Over the years I have grown in my appreciation of Shabbat. Where once I saw it simply as the end of my work week, I now respect that Shabbat brings an opportunity to relax, reflect and reenergize before the new week ahead. I have experimented with different ways to observe, creating my own personal boundaries in ways that help me to connect and recharge. 

As we approach the final Shabbat of 5774, I am thinking about the ways in which I might grow my personal practice in the year ahead.

We can apply this same principle to our efforts to become inclusive. We can grow over time as we take opportunities to slow down, reflect and make new commitments.  No one ever said you have to do it all at once. No one ever said that inclusion has an "end date".


So here is a thought to consider as you slow down and reflect on how you might want to grow in the year ahead:

“Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end – no apologies, no regrets.” ~ Henry Kissinger



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 

Dare to Fulfill Your Obligations to Yourself



I’m a “finish what you start” kind of person. When I set a goal for myself, I see it through. But I am also realistic, and the goals I set for myself are typically appropriate and manageable, with just enough “reach” to push myself a little further.

#BlogElul is more ambitious than that. I am not a daily blogger. While I genuinely appreciate this opportunity to tune in and become more mindful as I prepare for the holy days ahead; if I am really honest with myself, completing #BlogElul fully is a bit of a personal dare. I feel a sense of obligation to myself, and that, in and of itself, might just be the point.
Honoring an Obligation to Yourself, Removing the Stumbling Block, Lisa Friedman

Like many, I spend much of my time honoring my obligations to other people. There are parents and caregivers who give so much of themselves to others that they lose sight of their own needs. There is something really special about honoring a significant obligation to myself. It’s freeing, in some ways. Certainly challenging in others. And absolutely worthwhile.

So I will see #BlogElul through to the end; and with it will come both pride in accomplishment and a deep sigh of relief as I greet the new year with a full heart and an open mind to the possibilities that lie ahead.

#BlogElul 2014


This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 

We Judge One Another



We judge one another.  

When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself; Removing the Stumbling Block
 
To judge is “to form an opinion or conclusion about.” Straightforward, right? We need to form opinions and draw conclusions in order to make sense of our world. We do this every day.

There Is No Shame in Asking For Help


There is no shame in asking for help.

We live in community. And at the core of a successful community are relationships built upon networks of interdependence. Why then, is asking for help hard for so many? 

There Is No Right Way To Pray


There is no right way to pray. Some feel most comfortable in a communal setting while others prefer solitude. Some speak to their God regularly, while others only once in a while. There is no right way.

Spirituality is a part of us as human beings, although there are those who would choose to deny it. Some have struggled with this idea their whole lives while others are completely in tune to their own internal voice. Still others may choose to ignore what they know is there.

Awaken to Inclusion



For me, the idea of awakening conjures images of heightened senses and an appreciation for the gift of life.


inclusion will happen awaken recognize each is a gift from God faith

To awaken can be to gain a spiritual awareness, to have our eyes symbolically opened to the beauty that is all around us. 

Inclusion will happen when we awaken to the recognition that each of us is a gift from God; that each of us has a gift to share with the world.



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 

A Lesson to Build Relationships

There is significant value to building relationships when seeking to foster inclusion. And yet, even when we understand the importance of cultivating authentic, meaningful relationships, the practicality of helping students actually do it can be daunting.

Here is a lesson specifically geared for older children and teens:

1.      Have a conversation about the power of words. Discuss how easily words can hurt a person and how it is just as easy to use words to lift someone up.

2.     Brainstorm together positive words that might be used to describe a friend or someone you care about. Consider steering children away from generic words like “nice” and “fun”.

3.     Have one student sit in front of a white board. Gather the other students around him/her to write positive phrases. No peeking! Take a photo of the student and the board when it is complete.

A Lesson to Build Relationships, Removing the Stumbling Block, teens, teach

                                         Photo and lesson idea credit: Melissa Farnsworth

Variations:

  • Do this activity once a week until every student in the class has had a turn.
  • If you have a white board that is rarely used, consider turning it into a display. Keep the original activity up along with the photo and encourage students to add to the board throughout the week.

I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work building an elaborate sand castle by the water's edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand.
 
Building Relationships; Removing the Stumbling Block, Lisa Friedman
I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle.

I realized that they had taught me an important lesson. All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Only our relationships to other people endure. Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. When that happens, only the person who has somebody's hand to hold will be able to laugh.”  ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 


Everyone Can Learn



Everyone can learn. That’s it.

So go ahead, include everyone.




BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 


Will You See My Soul?



There is an image that I first encountered on Twitter that instantly captivated me: 

 “If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be.”

If only…

Here is another image that I discovered on Pinterest:

How You See Yourself; Removing the Stumbling Block

“How others see you is not important. How you see yourself means everything."

And while I love the potential that this image represents, I also recognize the challenges. This could represent pushing ourselves father than we are truly capable. This could mean giving in to the dangers of eating disorders or other self-injurious behaviors because we are never satisfied with what we see...

Yet, when we combine the two images, and teach our children and ourselves to see souls and not physical attributes; how stunning the potential.

And finally, there is this image:

See the Able, Not the Label; Removing the Stumbling Block
"See the able, not the label."

How might you use these images?

Photo credits to nationalautism.org, themetapicture.com and pinwords



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 

Each Of Us Yearns To Be Heard



Each of us yearns to be heard. 

But how many of us really listen?

How often do you say, “I hear you?” Is that the same as listening?

Do you only listen for what you want to hear?

Can you really listen, to that which you can hear and that which you can’t?


“We, the one's who are challenged, need to be heard. To be seen not as a disability, but as a person who has, and will continue to bloom. To be seen not only as a handicap, but as a well intact human being.” -- Robert M. Hensel

Each of us yearns to be heard.



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 




Search: So I Went to Google...




The word search immediately makes me think Google. I am sure I am not the only one. I know that it’s Elul and this prompt is intended to inspire reflection and introspection, but I can’t quite seem to get my brain past the notion of an online search for ideas and images.

Maybe one reason for this is that I have finished reading the book “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens” by Danah Boyd. To be honest, I have done little more than think about this book’s impact since setting it down. Yes, it really was that significant.

So I went to Google. I figured that if I was going to write a post about using Google to search, I should go ahead and do it myself.  I googled (yes, it is a verb) “inclusion” and the first hits were, as I expected, mostly education focused. I was also pleasantly surprised to see one of my own posts as the second hit. And yet, I realized that from the moment I pressed “enter” I was thinking more critically about what I might encounter online. I recognized that this search was tailored to my own biases based on my own past search history. Boyd elaborates on this in chapter 7 where she explains that, “most parents, teachers, and teens express reverence toward Google” and “many of the people I met believed that Google was neutral.” She further explains that most of the people she encountered failed to recognize that Google, a for-profit company monetized through advertising, is far from neutral.

This isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean that we should stop using the search engine. Rather, it illustrates that we have an obligation to teach our students and our children how to view and think critically about the information they access online.

That message is one of this book’s most significant takeaways. As Boyd states in her closing chapter, “Networked publics are here to stay. Rather than resisting technology or fearing what might happen if youth embrace social media, adults should help youth develop the skills and perspective to productively navigate the complication brought about by living in networked publics. Collaboratively, adults and youth can help to create a networked world that we all want to live in.”

As a Jewish Educator this speaks to me of tikkun olam; working as partners to repair and perfect the world.

As a teacher this speaks to me of directly teaching the skills of critical thinking and digital awareness.

As an advocate for inclusion this speaks to me of opening new doors and embracing new possibilities.

It’s Elul, so I am still processing, still reflecting, still searching for the ways that this book can and will impact my work and my students. I believe that this book is an important read for anyone who works with, lives with or cares about teens.

And if anyone has read “It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens” and wants to discuss, please let me know! 



BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block
This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 
 

Blessed is the One Who Makes Creatures Different

Hebrew blessing for who makes creatures different; Removing the Stumbling Block


Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, m’shaneh habriyot - Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who makes creatures different.


Diversity. It’s what makes life interesting. How boring it would be if we were all exactly the same! Earlier this summer I used a metaphor of fireworks as a successful model for inclusion, illustrating the significance of diversity. There are many other examples out there and so much written about the value of diversity. 
Teaching Diversity; Survival Kit, Removing the Stumbling Block 
We should be celebrating diversity. And to do so requires actively teaching it. The Egg Activity is one lesson that you might use. This Survival Kit is another.

I’d love to hear other ways that you actively teach diversity.
BlogElul 2014 Removing the Stumbling Block



This post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 

Are You A Hypocrite?

BlogElul 2014 Are You A Hypocrite, Removing the Stumbling Block

Are you a hypocrite?

An Inclusion To-Do List



Today marks the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the final month in the Jewish calendar. As we draw closer to Rosh Hashanah, the start of the New Jewish Year, we use this time to focus on personal reflection and renewal.

I am participating in #BlogElul (read more about the project here) as a way to think deeply about my own inclusive practices and reflect on the ways in which I still strive to grow.


I have said often that inclusion is not a program. And inclusion is not something that we do for people with disabilities. Rather, inclusion is a mindset, an attitude, a way of thinking that opens doors to opportunities for meaningful engagement, contribution and belonging.

But is that enough? Can we just think good thoughts and have the right attitudes and POOF all will be inclusive? It seems fairly obvious that we have to DO something to make inclusion a reality. So, I have drafted my suggestions for an inclusion to-do list:

Inclusion To-Do List Removing the Stumbling Block

What will you put on your to-do list in the year ahead to make your school, your organization, your faith community more inclusive? 



BlogElul 2014 inclusion to-do listThis post is a part of the month-long series #BlogElul. The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I'll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation... 

A Time for Reflection - #BlogElul



A year ago I participated in an effort created by a Reform rabbi named Phyllis Sommer called #BlogElul. I found it to be both challenging and rewarding, and I am eager to participate again this year. I relish this opportunity to think deeply and move into the year ahead with greater intention. Writing is clearly a modality that works for me and it helps me to tune in and personally reflect. I regularly encourage teachers and colleagues to find ways to reach their students by tapping into their areas of strength, and so I appreciate that the #BlogElul project has helped tap into mine.

Additionally, this is also the project that inspired me to start #JDAMblogs for Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February 2014. (Watch for #JDAMblogs again in February 2015!)

So, I will once again do my best to fully participate in #BlogElul. For those of you who wish to follow along or join me in the journey, here is an easily recognizable image with the daily prompts. (Thank you, Phyllis!)



And, as always, I intend to stay true to my content. Each of my posts will have a reflection, some inspiration or a tip, technique or strategy related in some way to Jewish special needs education or inclusion. As I use this opportunity to reflect on my own inclusive practice, both professional and personal, I hope to inspire others to think deeply and differently as we prepare for the New Year ahead.

Join me in the journey.


A Blog Hop About Blog Writing!



Last week I was invited to participate in a blog hop by Galit of Matir Asurim. She writes an insightful blog focusing on the intersection of Judaism, Jewish teaching, and adoption. Even more exciting, she is endeavoring to start a coffee shop fully staffed by individuals with disabilities as a social enterprise to create inclusion (http://thepowercafe.com). I am deeply flattered that she wanted to highlight my blog.

The rules are simple: I answer the four questions, introduce three bloggers, and next week they will (hopefully) do the same. I will also link back to their posts.

  1. What am I writing or working on?
The opening of school is right around the corner, as is the start of the New Jewish Year. Currently I am preparing to participate in #BlogElul, an effort to tune in, reflect and prepare for the Jewish high holy days. I am also proud to share that I have taken a part-time role as the Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks for Matan, part of which includes blog oversight. Hope you might visit me there.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There are some terrific blogs about inclusion, blogs about Jewish education and a few significant blogs that focus on inclusion in the Jewish world. I share thoughts and experiences that are the intersection of all three. I have found many blogs written by parents, but my unique perspective as a professional with experience in both secular and Jewish education adds a unique voice.

  1. Why do I write what I write?
Above all else, I believe deeply in the notion that each one of us is created b’tzelem elohim (in the image of God). I write to help others view the world through this lens. I hope that I inspire others and give them the tools to bring change to their own organizations and communities.

  1. How does my writing process work?
I write when I am moved to write. I try to post once every ten days to two weeks, but don’t find myself limited by or beholden to a specific posting schedule. Additionally, I spearheaded the #JDAMblogs initiative (modeled after #BlogElul) where each year, in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM occurs every February), I share a daily post. Maybe this year you will join me!

And now here are, in no particular order, the bloggers I’d like to recognize. I hope that they will continue the hop.

The first is Rebecca Schorr, author of the blog This Messy Life. A Reform rabbi, Rebecca uses her space to share thoughts on life, Judasim and raising a family that includes a son with Autism. I admire her honest writing style. From her bio: This former career-driven mother of three became a reluctant stay-at-home-mom when her autistic son and his two adorable sidekicks needed more from her. The transformation from a religious community leader to what her kids call a “house-mother” has been nothing short of life-altering.  

The second is Rabbi Ruth Adar, also known as The Coffee Shop Rabbi. My connection to Ruth is mainly on Twitter and I appreciate her down-to-earth writing that shares Judaism and guidance for those wishing to learn more about living a meaningful Jewish life. From her website: I am not a replacement for a synagogue membership. But not everyone is at a place in their life where synagogue membership makes sense or is even possible. Perhaps you aren’t Jewish, but you have some questions about Judaism. Perhaps you are Jew-ish, you have relatives who are or were Jewish, but you aren’t sure of your status and are nervous about approaching a synagogue. Perhaps you are a Jew who has belonged to a synagogue in the past, but that didn’t work out. Whatever your story, I am happy to meet with you, to talk with you, study with you. People of all backgrounds, races, orientations, and genders are welcome.

Finally, I’d like to introduce blogger Yair Robinson. Also a Reform rabbi (yes, I am now seeing the trend…) I got to know Yair better this summer when we were on faculty together at URJ Camp Harlam. He describes his blog, A Good Question! as a place to explore questions about Torah, Jewish tradition and how we interact with the world meaningfully. I love his mix of Torah, Jewish education and personal experience.
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