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... 

An Inclusion To-Do List

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? 

Never miss a post from Removing the Stumbling Block:

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 ( 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.

Are You Sure? A Response to "I Couldn’t Find a ‘Back to School’ Ad That Included Kids With Disabilities… So I Made My Own"

disabilities under-represented in advertising; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s an article from The Mighty circulating the internet called “I Couldn’t Find a ‘Back to School’ Ad That Included Kids With Disabilities… So I Made My Own” Maybe you’ve read it, or maybe you’ve already shared it.

It’s a well written article in which the author expresses her frustration about the lack of disability representation in online back-to-school ads, so she creates her own. And I agree. Disabilities are absolutely under-represented in all forms of advertising.

no disability in ad; Removing the Stumbling BlockBut here’s where I got stuck: This author assumed (you know what they say about assuming…) that all disabilities are visible. In looking for a “child who looked like her daughter” she may well have overlooked children with Dyslexia, ADHD, social issues, anxiety or other psychological issues, those with mental illnesses and many others. Is it accurate to say that each child in each ad she shared in her post doesn’t have some form of a disability? Can she really assert; “Not one model in close to 50 ads included one child with a disability. Not one.”? I will graciously stand corrected if she did the research and verified that each child is typically developing. But I am very uncomfortable with the assumption.

People with disabilities and their families do not want assumptions made about them. None of us do. But this article made assumptions FOR them. Is that any better? I realize that some may argue that this is a bit of semantics, but hear me out. If we are truly invested in creating a more inclusive society, then the rules have to be consistent; for everyone. If it is unfair to make assumptions about a person’s needs or abilities without getting to know him/her, then it is unfair to assume that every child or person we see in an advertisement is neurotypical. The truth is that not all disabilities are visible. Period.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need greater diversity in advertising, specifically where disabilities are concerned. I'm just not confident in her assumption that every single child in every single “regular” ad she found didn't have a disability.


Finding An Inclusive Community - URJ 6 Points Sci Tech Academy

I have the pleasure of spending a few weeks each summer at Jewish summer camp. There are a lot of reasons why, as a Jewish Educator, I do this. I go to support the students from my congregation. I love being in this space with them, sharing in the joy and magic that can only happen at camp. I also go so that when I promote our camps to our families, I can describe the experience and answer questions in an authentic, “I saw it firsthand” way. I also go because at camp we can find experiential learning at its best, and I seek out innovation to bring back to our school and community. And I go so that I can help to mentor the young adults serving on staff in what it means to be Jewish role models as they strive to find their footing on their own Jewish journeys. 

Last week I had the good fortune of serving as a part of the pioneer faculty for the URJ 6 Points Sci Tech Academy. I’m not quite sure where to begin in describing all of the significant moments that I observed and experienced, so if you have not been following their inaugural season on the blog, I urge you to catch up!

At Sci Tech they have so seamlessly blended science and technology with living Jewishly. Here, campers are deeply exploring, creating and discovering while experiencing the true magic of Jewish camp. It is a specialty camp like no other and I have no doubt that many of these children would not have otherwise had a Jewish summer experience. Point in case, on Shabbat morning I taught two of the youngest campers how we honor the Torah during hakafah (Torah procession) as they had never participated in a Torah service before.

And, as is my nature, I enter into experiential learning spaces with an eye toward inclusion. From the moment that I arrived at Sci Tech it was clear to me that it was an inclusive space, attracting campers with a wide range of intellectual, emotional and social abilities. The staff was prepared to welcome campers of all abilities, and the appropriate support was in place to enable every camper to find success. 

It is this support which impressed me the most. It is a part of the fabric of Sci Tech. Inclusion is not an after-thought or a band-aid stuck on problems after they arise. Rather, this is a community built with intentionality and the foresight to anticipate the many needs and complexities of a wonderfully diverse population.

When I had the honor of offering the dvar Torah on Shabbat morning, it is this support that I chose to make the focus of my teaching. Here is a part of what I shared with the Sci Tech community:

"This Shabbat we read from D’varim, the first chapter of the last book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. D'varim means words. In this portion Moses begins his farewell address to the Israelites. In it he recounts all of the struggles they have had over their forty years in the desert as a reminder of what NOT to do in the future.

But here is what is really interesting. When God addressed Moses for the very first time at the Burning Bush, sending him on his life's mission to liberate the Israelite slaves, Moses resisted, saying, Lo ish d'varim anochi . . . , “I have never been a man of words…I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

And yet now, at the end of his life, we have a whole portion dedicated to a powerful and memorable speech that Moses will give. He has become a man of words; he has become a master storyteller.

How can that happen? Moses’ speech impediment was so severe that it paralyzed him with fear. It’s not just that he didn’t want to heed God’s call. It is that he genuinely and wholeheartedly believed that he could not. And yet, we know that Moses goes on to do exactly what God has asked of him. What made it possible for Moses to overcome his insecurities and limitations and gain the confidence he needed to face this challenge?

Quite simply, it is because he had the right support. God wouldn’t take no for an answer and gave Moses what he needed to be successful. Aaron, Moses’ brother, became his aide and was designated to speak on Moses’ behalf when he could not. I believe that the comfort of knowing that Aaron was there for support was enough to enable Moses to rise to the challenge, discover his own gifts and shine.

Being here this week has shown me that you have a camp full of Aarons. Your counselors and this incredible staff support you and enable you to be the best you that each of you can be. I will go further and say that you give this support to one another, too. Truly, this camp, this amazing Sci Tech community is Aaron. It is a place where you can be you; where you have the support you need to find the gifts that were there all along while you discover some new ones along the way.

Thank you for welcoming me in to this holy community and for letting me share this time with you. May you continue to support one another as Aaron supported Moses while you learn, grow and discover. Shabbat Shalom."


 Another version of this post can be found on the Sci Tech blog.

Subscribe by Email