A Favorite Story of Inclusion

In celebration of my second “Blogiversary”, I share one of my favorite stories:

Inclusion is about more than learning a foreign language; Removing the Stumbling Block

When I first began my tenure at Temple Beth-El over fourteen years ago, there was a student named David in our fifth grade who had a significant learning disability and attention issues. We were invited by David’s parents to the public school district’s annual IEP meeting, where members of the Child Study Team suggested that David not attempt learn a foreign language. He would struggle too significantly, they asserted, and his focus should be on reading and writing English.

Yet this was a notion that just wasn’t acceptable to his parents, who were actively raising their children in a Jewish home, and who wanted David to both learn and love Hebrew, and for him to become a bar mitzvah.

With this goal as our guide, we individualized David’s instruction to meet his specific academic needs and he learned to read Hebrew. His bar mitzvah was a highly meaningful experience as he read from the Torah and led our congregation in prayer. 

But for me, this is where David’s story begins.  

Individualize to meet student needs; Removing the Stumbling Block

I always knew that David could learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah; we just needed to meet his learning needs appropriately. For me, what is significant is that David continued his formal Jewish learning beyond his bar mitzvah. When so many drop out, for a vast array of reasons, having students stay by choice is a significant testament to a program that meets their needs. It was truly powerful to sit in the sanctuary as David joined with his peers to reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. David also went on to become an active member of our youth group, serving on its board and becoming an active member in NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth), too. This is the success story! 

Without our flexible approach to individualized learning and our commitment to each and every child’s success, David could well have been that stereotypically frustrated boy who fought coming to Hebrew school. He might have barely finished seventh grade and he certainly would have struggled through the bar mitzvah process. Instead, David’s handsome face shined brightly from our bimah on the evening of his Confirmation. 

If we had listened to David’s Child Study Team, he would have missed out on the richness of his heritage; the joy of learning and living Jewishly. Inclusion is about so much more than whether or not we teach a child a foreign language. We are shaping young Jewish identities and empowering them to live Jewish lives. 

Who’s to say what that should look like?

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