Inclusion Requires Authenticity

I think about authenticity a lot.

Inclusion requires authenticity; Removing the Stumbling Block

I’m fairly certain one significant reason is that I work with pre-teens and teens - and they will not hesitate to call you out for a lack of authenticity. I actually believe that this is why I have had such great successes in building relationships with teens – because I have proven my willingness to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

This holds true to inclusion. Authenticity is a key element to ensuring that a community’s inclusive efforts aren’t just words on a page, but rather an integral part of who they are and all they do.

When asked how it came to be that I would staff a URJ Kesher Birthright trip to Israel this Winter cycle, I readily share the two reasons:

What Families With Disabilities Wish Their Rabbis Knew

What Special-Needs Families Wish Their Rabbis Knew; Removing the Stumbling Block

Ever read an article that just sticks with you? One that you are thinking about days and maybe even weeks after you read it?

That’s what the article What Special-Needs Families Wish Their Pastors Knew has been for me. It immediately and deeply resonated. Of course, I swapped “rabbi” for “pastor”, but yeah, it might as well have been written for synagogues.

Not all synagogues. Just as you can’t drape this piece like a blanket across all churches, neither can I make the broad statement that it would apply to all synagogues.

But it certainly applies to many.

Fictional Characters Who Might As Well Have Been Talking About Disability Inclusion

I think that most of us can readily think of the “big players” when it comes to identifying the quotes that move us. We call to mind historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy Jr., Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., or Nelson Mandela. Or we might name prominent literary figures such as Maya Angelou, Fred Rogers, Jane Austin, Dr. Seuss, or Anne Frank.

We likely have been inspired by most, if not all, of them, to be sure. It is easy to apply any of their quotes to whatever aspect of our lives needs a little push: leadership, education, relationships and yes, even disability inclusion. 

But here’s the thing: sometimes inspiration comes from an unexpected source.

5 Ways Sukkot is the Perfect Inclusive Holiday

 5 Ways Sukkot is the Perfect Inclusive Holiday; Removing the Stumbling Block

Sukkot can be the ideal Jewish holiday for disability inclusion. Ok, the truth is that every holiday should be inclusive. But certain holidays definitely lend themselves more naturally toward being inclusive than others, so I think we would be wise to learn what we can and apply it across other situations as we strive to make every holiday inclusive.

What is Sukkot?

“On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Eternal, [to last] seven days.” ~ Leviticus 23:34

Sukkot is a Pilgrimage Festival in which Jews celebrate the autumn harvest. The Torah identifies the sukkah (booth) with the temporary dwellings in which the Israelites lived during their journey through the wilderness to Israel. The mood of Sukkot is joyous. The symbolism of a successful harvest offers a welcome change of pace from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; which were much more solemn days of prayer and introspection.

La Inclusion del ABC - The ABC's of Inclusion in Spanish!

It's always a thrill to learn that something I have written resonates. Fair Isn't Equal has been used by college professors teaching classes about equality and inclusion. Inclusion is NOT Social Action was cross-posted by the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. Numerous other posts have been shared on Think Inclusive, Kveller, and, while still others have been republished in newsletters and shared by administrators & school directors with teachers and staff. 

That was what I hoped for when I started this blog - that what I write would resonate and help those seeking to make their schools, organizations and communities more inclusive.

But I think one of the neatest requests came over the summer. Loretta Boskovic of FACTOregon asked to share my image of The ABC's of Inclusion in a Back-to-School Checklist she was running. Since many of their readers are native Spanish speakers, she also asked permission to recreate the image in Spanish. I am so glad she shared it with me so that I can now share it with all of you!

I hope that this blog has motivated or inspired you to work toward increased inclusion in some way. Please share in the comments below!

If you are interested in republishing any content from this blog, please contact me directly.

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Inclusion of People With Disabilities and Judaism Belong Together

My personal vision as a Jewish Educator is to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity; Removing the Stumbling Block
I "met" Emily Ladau online several years ago. I was instantly impressed by her commitment to self-advocacy. She openly and honestly shares her experiences as a person with a disability with the goal of raising awareness and pushing forward the agenda of disability rights in American society. I was so pleased to learn that Emily had participated in an accessible Birthright trip to Israel, and it made perfect sense to feature her story as my first guest post. I was flattered when she offered me an opportunity for a “post exchange”.  I sought her thoughts for a topic and she posed the following question: “How did it come to be that you care so deeply about Judaism and inclusive education?”

Wow. Where do I start?

At the age of seventeen my parents gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and it truly was a life-changing experience. I spent six weeks of the summer between my junior and senior years of high school participating in NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) Urban Mitzvah Corps, an intense summer 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 choose jobs sites and volunteer for three weeks at a time. I spent three weeks at Camp Daisy, a day camp for children with developmental disabilities, and that was it. I was hooked. My track was set. 

Little did I know that my professional life would eventually come full circle.

life comes full circle; Removing the Stumbling BlockAfter high school I went on to Rutgers University to master in Psychology while pursuing certifications in both special and elementary education. I worked for six years in a public school district renowned for its special education programs and I remained focused as a classroom teacher while completing a Master’s program in Counseling Psychology.

I left the classroom when my son was born, only to quickly realize how much I missed it. Not ready to return to full time work, I called my local synagogue to explore the possibility of substitute teaching. To my surprise, they were seeking a seventh grade teacher. I immediately conveyed my interest, sharing that I had been a middle school special education teacher. To this day, I still joke that I could hear my now colleague drooling over the phone when she heard me say “special education”.

You see, like many congregations, ours was struggling to meet the needs of diverse learners. Most professional Jewish educators and teachers did not have any mandatory training or formal experience with learning challenges or disabilities (they still don’t – but that’s another story for another day), and as a result, synagogues were often turning families away.

And so my worlds collided, beautifully. I brought my experience and expertise in special education to the world of Jewish education, and discovered that it was a perfect fit.

My personal vision as a Jewish Educator is to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity to attend a safe, challenging and engaging program, where they can explore their heritage, form authentic relationships and live meaningful Jewish lives. 

I am so fortunate to be able to share what I have learned with others. It is an honor that our synagogue’s program and inclusive practice can serve as a model to others. I take great pride in opportunities to consult with other congregations seeking to do this work. I love leading workshops and training sessions for teachers, teens, clergy and lay leaders to help them to do what I know is right and just. 

Inclusion of individuals with disabilities and Judaism belong together. 

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Intentionally Teaching a Message of Inclusion – “An Ugly Encounter”

To be truly successful, inclusion of individuals with disabilities must be “what we do”. When we lead by example, modeling inclusion within our faith communities, we let our constituents know that it is our expectation that they will treat one another with dignity and respect.  

Lead by example, model inclusion; Removing the Stumbling Block

Sometimes, however, that’s not quite enough. Sometimes this belief and commitment doesn't fully move from expectation to good intentions to action. This is when the value of inclusion must be intentionally taught.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} Z is to Zealously Pursue Success

{The ABC's of Inclusion} Z is to Zealously Pursue Success; Removing the Stumbling Block

We are a success-focused society. We strive to do more, earn more, BE more than those who came before us.

There is nothing wrong with being driven to find success, especially when it motivates us in positive ways. But what happens when we get out of balance? What happens when what we are striving for is impractical or even unattainable? More importantly, how will we know the difference?

Ditch the Clips – Why You Need To Stop Using Behavior Charts in the Classroom RIGHT NOW

I have a lot of discomfort with traditional systems of behavior management; especially the ones that hang at the front of the classroom for all to see. I take one look at these, and I cringe:

Why your classroom behavior charts make me cringe; Removing the Stumbling Block

Now here’s the thing: images like these are ALL OVER Pinterest. And who doesn’t love Pinterest? It’s a glorious treasure trove of inspiration and ideas for just about anything. It has the potential to be any classroom teacher’s happy place. But let’s be honest, when we see something that’s been endorsed (in this case re-pinned) thousands of times, it’s seems like an idea we must try. After all, if thousands of people like it, how can it be bad?

Will You Be Watching Speechless?

There's a lot of terrific buzz around the new ABC comedy "Speechless" starring Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Mason Cook, Micah Fowler, Kyla Kenedy, and Cedric Yarbrough. With good reason. 

Micah Fowler, who has cerebal palsy, will be the first star of a sitcom with a disability since Chris Burke played Corky on Life Goes On a quarter of a century ago. Yes, you read that right, there has been no other lead in a sitcom with a disability in the past 25+ years.

There's already a lot written about this series and its trailer, which you can view here:

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} Y is to Yearn for More

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} Y is to Yearn for More; Removing the Stumbling Block

It’s kind of amazing that I have made it almost to the end of alphabet without feeling stuck; even when some of the topics I have explored in this series seem so similar to one another. For example, you might think that I would have struggled to write G is to Grab Partners after already writing C is to Collaborate. Or that there would be too much similarity between H is to Hold High Expectations and E is to Expect Competence

Nevertheless, I found myself with so much content that it was easy to take these posts in a variety of directions. Until now.  

I know that when we yearn for more we tune in, mindfully, to what we may not yet have. And hopefully, we begin to think about and act upon the ways that we can bring those dreams and goals to fruition.

And there is a distinct difference between yearning for more and never feeling satisfied. Yearning an push us while a lack of satisfaction may simply frustrate us.

So I want to take a little turn. I want to hear from YOU. What are your thoughts about yearning for more when it comes to disability inclusion? How does it inspire you? How do you use that yearning to propel forward?

In case you missed it, The ABC's of Inclusion begins here. I hope you'll subscribe to Removing the Stumbling Block so you never miss a post:

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} X is Xoxo (Generous Affection)

{The ABC's of Inclusion} is XOXO (generous affection); Removing the Stumbling Block

When I first created The ABC’s of Inclusion, you might have thought that "xoxo (generous affection)" was just a filler. (And let’s be real, it’s tough to find “x” words, especially ones that are appropriate to the theme of inclusion.) Maybe you thought it was just a logical extension of U is to Unconditionally Love; and it could be. But I want to go in a different direction.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} W is to Work Hard

{The ABC's of Inclusion} W is to Work Hard; Removing the Stumbling Block

It’s true, genuine inclusion can be hard work. But our communities are always better for it. 

Our diversity gives us strength; it’s what makes us interesting and it’s what makes us real. Working hard to ensure that each and every community celebrates its diversity isn’t easy, but it’s oh so powerful.

As a leader (in a classroom, school, youth group, camp, organization, etc.) 
you can teach the value of diversity:

For older children and teens - Teach Diversity Using Oranges.

7 Hacks EVERY Teacher Can Use Right Now To Be More Inclusive

Inclusion is definitely a buzz word. There’s lots of talk about making schools and classrooms more inclusive of diverse learners with a broad range of abilities.

7 Hacks EVERY Teach Can Use Right Now To Be More Inclusive; Removing the Stumbling Block

And while there are many teachers who “buy in” recognize the value of full inclusion, there is still a gap between desire and skill set. Many continue to shy away from making their classroom a welcoming space for learners of abilities because they believe that they do not have the expertise needed, and often fear they might “do it wrong” or make too many mistakes.

{ABC’s of Inclusion} V is to Voice Concerns

{ABC's of Inclusion} V is to Voice Concerns; Removing the Stumbling Block

One of the things that we most want for our children is for them to become self-advocates. We want them to develop the skills and have the confidence to speak up and share their needs in meaningful and constructive ways. So we teach them. We model and we coach and we encourage. 

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} U is to Unconditionally Love

{The ABC's of Inclusion} U is to Unconditionally Love; Removing the Stumbling Block

I have said it before and I will say it again – it’s all about relationships.

At the core of a truly inclusive classroom, school, synagogue, church, camp, or organization are relationships which are built on love, respect and trust.

I have written about building trust and earning or inspiring trust before. This is significant and not something to be taken lightly. Bringing intention to each and every interaction we have with others is hard work, but it is the way that we demonstrate our commitment to open, honest and meaningful relationships. We must also show kavod (respect) for one another’s differences and genuinely appreciate that gifts that each person has to offer.

A Lesson to Build Trusting Relationships

This is the time of year when teachers are busy setting up their classrooms and preparing for the new year ahead. The focus is on designing welcoming spaces and thinking about ways to create a positive learning climate. In addition to the content preparation, student background and decorations, teachers need to focus on ways to develop positive, healthy relationships both with and among their students. These relationships are at their best when they are built on a foundation of trust. 

{The ABC's of Inclusion} T is to Trust

{The ABC's of Inclusion} T is to Trust; Removing the Stumbling Block

Noun  - firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Verb    - believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.

Trust is the foundation for every meaningful relationship. As Martin Buber taught, “human relationships, at their best, involve mutual knowledge and respect, treating self and others as valuable human beings”. Trust is a critical building block for successful inclusion.

But trust is not automatic. The seeds of trust must be planted, grown and cultivated. Trust must be nourished and allowed to flourish.

For inclusion to truly thrive we need to build trust between teachers & students, teachers & parents, parents & administrators and between students. 

So, how do we do it?

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} S is to Smile

{The ABC's of Inclusion} S is to Smile; Removing the Stumbling Block

Smiling is free.


The choice to smile is always in your control.


Smiling can make you feel as good as the person to whom you direct it.

{The ABC's of Inclusion} R is to Reserve Judgment

{The ABC's of Inclusion} R is to Reserve Judgment; Removing the Stumbling Block

There is a quote you may be familiar with (or at least some variation of it):

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

This should be our reminder to pause, to think through our words and our actions. But sadly, most people are quick to judge. They believe they know situations or people well enough to be right, and believing one is right has been enough justification for many. 

The reality is that we judge one another.

{The ABC's of Inclusion} Q is to Quell Negativity

{The ABC's of Inclusion} Q is to Quell Negativity; Removing the Stumbling Block

This one is the hardest.

It’s the hardest to write and it’s the hardest to do.

Today’s world is challenging. We are surrounded by negativity every day. Finding the strength to quell the negativity that surrounds us is no easy task.

And yet, we must.

  • What does the world you want to live in look like? 
  • How does it feel? 
  • How do you feel as you wake each day, as you go about your work, as you seek joy? 

These are tough questions. I told you, this one is the hardest.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} P is to Prepare

{The ABC's of Inclusion} P is to Prepare; Removing the Stumbling Block

Preparation is critical for successful inclusion.

When our focus is on education, Jewish, special needs or otherwise, we must be mindful of the need for adequate preparation. We must also recognize that our plans will not always go as intended and there is no such thing as the “perfect lesson”. In fact, there is no such thing as the “perfect” anything. It’s why we strive to improve and to grow rather than to reach for something arbitrary that we will never attain. Mistakes will happen, our responsibility is to appreciate them as opportunities for reflection and growth rather than letting them become stumbling blocks.

Live What You Learn - Helping Students Find Their Soul

God does not create clones; Removing the Stumbling Block

There is a wonderful little gem of a book that you may not know about. It is called Soulful Education, written by Aryeh Ben David. And while this is a book primarily written for Jewish Educators, make no mistake that this is a book that will speak to ALL educators.

The tagline tells us plenty: “Why imparting knowledge is not enough.”

The issue, as Ben David sees it, is simple: We need a paradigm shift in our definition of “successful teaching”. He says, “I believe we need a full-out paradigm shift: in the way we prepare material, the atmosphere we aim for in the classroom – and certainly in our expectations of our students and ourselves…I realized that our goal could be – and should be – about more than content and pedagogy.”

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} O is to Open Lines of Communication

{ABC's of Inclusion} O is to Open Lines of Communication; Removing the Stumbling Block

Honest, consistent communication is critical for successful inclusion. We need to listen to one another, really listen. And we need to be forthcoming with all of the information that can help each individual find success.

This sounds so logical, right?

A story:

There was a boy in my program who was struggling through grade school. He was keeping up academically, learning all of the skills that we were teaching. He was proficient in Hebrew, he was reading English above grade level and he could answer most questions posed by his teachers. But he struggled to make friends and had frequent mood swings. His parents shared with us a classification of ADHD and we worked hard to meet his needs. But I suspected there was more to the situation.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} N is to Never Give Up

{The ABC's of Inclusion} N is to Never Give Up; Removing the Stumbling Block

There will be those who stand in the way. There will be those who disagree. There will be those who just do not care to learn or understand.

Persevere (per·se·vere)

verb: to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

Persist (per·sist)

verb: to continue firmly or obstinately in an opinion or a course of action in spite of difficulty, opposition, or failure.

{The ABC’s of Inclusion} M is to Make Mistakes

{The ABC's of Inclusion} M is to Make Mistakes; Removing the Stumbling Block

Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning.

A favorite concept:

FAIL First Attempt in Learning; Removing the Stumbling Block

It is also significant that we recognize the mistakes we make. Read: Ten Mistakes Even Good Educators Make

Some Communities Just Get Inclusion

Sci Tech; Removing the Stumbling Block
Some communities just get it.

They get that inclusion a mindset; a way of thinking about how we treat one another, ensuring that everyone has a place. These communities understand that inclusion is who we are and who we want to be.

I have been fortunate to know and work in a few such communities, and what’s most remarkable is that there isn’t a lot of fanfare or bragging. Rather, inclusivity is simply and seamlessly apart of the vision, woven into the fabric of conversations, planning and programs. Trust me; these are places you want to be.

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