What a week in New Orleans! At the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, otherwise known as the GA, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Jewish Futures Conference – an interactive conversation about the future of Jewish education.
Russel Neiss and Charlie Schwartz, two winners of a national competition to create 4 minute videos on the future of Jewish education, presented their vision of Jewish education becoming “open, discoverable and accessible”. When they said this, my thoughts immediately went to special education and Matan’s credo, “For every child. For every community. The Gift of Jewish Learning.” A vision such as that presented by Neiss and Schwartz has the immense potential to include all types of learners. It is up to the Jewish community as a whole – not just those of us in the field of Jewish special education – to turn that vision into a living reality.
At the GA, I also had the opportunity to attend a session entitled Creativity, Innovation, and Consciousness-Raising: New Approaches to Promoting the Strengths and Addressing the Needs of Individuals with Disabilities and their Families. Panelists included Dan Guyer, MD, Co-Chairperson, Disabilities Work Group, Jewish Federations of North America, Isaac Zablocki Director of Film Programs, The JCC in Manhattan, Anita Altman, Deputy Managing Director, Government Relations & External Affairs, UJA-Federation of New York, Jaret L. Vogel Director, Special Needs Tax Credit Alliance, Inc., and Jay Ruderman President, Ruderman Family Foundation. They discussed many exciting opportunities for special education within the Jewish educational setting. Each and every individual in attendance was deeply committed to providing a Jewish education to those with special needs.
The future of Jewish education and the need to include diverse learners should not be conceived of as individual and disparate ideas. Rather, inclusion must be part and parcel of every discussion and every vision of the wonderful possibilities for the future of Jewish education. At Matan, it is our hope that the conversations and connections made this past week at the GA will propel us all towards linking these ideas and, in the words of Neiss and Schwartz, create a system of Jewish education that is indeed “open, discoverable and accessible”.