fbpx
Monday, August 3, 2020

Including peers with special needs can be part of a teen’s transition from child to adult

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

For many teens, a bar or bat mitzvah is not just a rite of passage and an embrace of a community’s Jewish values; it also is an opportunity to make a mark socially by inviting BFFs and other classmates.

In the process, there are going to be kids who will not make the list — some may have special needs, difficult family situations or other qualities that make them “different” in the eyes of their peers. While the rejection itself can be painful, it can be accentuated after the service when classmates return to school and discuss the exciting day’s events. 

That’s why teaching teens ongoing lessons about inclusion is important, especially at this critical moment in their lives, according to Jerome Schultz, a clinical neuropsychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of “Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids With ADHD & LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It.” 

“It is a matter of right, as well as a reflection of the Jewish philosophy about embracing difference within our own community,” he said.

While Nes Gadol, a program of Jewish learning for children with special needs at Vista Del Mar, a Los Angeles social services agency, offers the b’nai mitzvah experience, its director, Rabbi Jacqueline Redner, believes including special-needs youths in the coming-of-age ceremonies of their peers can magnify the success of the program. 

“The first lesson coming out of the Torah is that all humans are created in God’s image,” she said. “This is what prompted us to start a community-inclusion program at temples throughout Los Angeles, helping [educators] to create their own programming for kids who learn differently and create an inclusive environment.”

Redner explains that practices at Nes Gadol, which means “a great miracle,” can be done in every household. When parents have their discussion about bar or bat mitzvah invitations, it should be clear that it is not just about inviting a certain child, but what they can do as a family to ensure that every classmate is made to feel welcome. 

“Having been a teenager yourself, whether you were one of the kids invited or one of those put on the shelf, you know your teen’s rite of passage can also be a teachable moment if you do it with sensitivity and care,” Redner said. “With some guidance, you and your teen can be a living example of a value that is clearly stated in the Torah.”

Getting kids to think about inclusion doesn’t have to be something that waits until they’re a teen. Lisa Niver Rajna, formerly a science teacher at Brawerman Elementary School at L.A.’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple, has throughout her career worked issues about diversity and inclusion into her lessons.

“We observe how caterpillars become butterflies,” she said. “Some butterflies emerge that may have a wing with a problem. I leave all of them in the habitat. When we go outside to release all of them, we talk about how not everyone is the same. Some butterflies, like people, have a problem with a limb or other body part, yet we are all part of the community.” 

Schultz says that today’s youths are exposed to a wider range of children with differences than in the past, due to mainstreaming in the classroom. As a result, he said, “Today, the discussion between parents and kids would be, ‘Why would you not invite a particular classmate?’ If a special-needs child is a part of the world the typical child inhabits, the idea of exclusion seems ethically and morally wrong.”

West Los Angeles author Tom Fields-Meyer, the father of a son with autism, says that a bar or bat mitzvah celebrates a young person taking a place of responsibility in the community, and that comes with certain obligations.

“One primary Jewish value is ‘kol yisrael arevim zeh la zeh,’ or, ‘All Jews are responsible for one another.’ What a perfect way to demonstrate that — by making sure that everyone in your circle feels included in your simcha,” said Fields-Meyer, who wrote “Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love From His Extraordinary Son.”

While he says that inclusion wasn’t an issue for his son, he stresses that the process of Hebrew school that leads up to the bar or bat mitzvah is full of countless teachable moments on all sides. 

“Our tradition tells us to be sensitive to those among us who are different in some way, particularly in ways that might make them seem or feel weaker.”

Susan North Gilboa, director of OurSpace — a collaboration between Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills and Valley Beth Shalom in Encino that facilitates Jewish experiences for people with special needs — says parents and teens often reach out to her expressing interest in volunteering for a bar or bat mitzvah project. However, before they sign on, Gilboa advises them that the participants in the OurSpace classes, social groups, art class and choir are not “projects.”

“[Volunteering] isn’t just about ‘being nice to them’ or ‘trying to include people with special needs,’ ” she said. “It’s about learning about our [participants’] special abilities and successes,” she says. “While volunteering, teens also learn from OurSpace and its participants about the value of creating spaces for everyone in our community.” 

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

‘American Pickle’ Director on Seth Rogen’s Very Jewish Double Role

"That’s what the movie is at its core: what it means when Old World customs meet new ones."

Biden Fundraiser Focuses on Fighting Anti-Semitism

Jason Alexander will be moderating the event.

What This Tisha B’Av Meant for Me

Next Tisha B’Av may be different. We may be commemorating the loss of something much more meaningful.

Why We Should Care How Seth Rogen Went from Jewish Day School to Saying ‘WTF’ to Israel

Rogen is not just an A-list celebrity with a platform and a captive audience. He also is the product of Jewish and Israel education.

Ukraine to Let in at Least 5,000 Uman Pilgrims for Rosh Hashanah Chief Rabbi Says

The quota may rise as high as 8,000, but the pilgrims will have to wear face masks in crowded places and refrain from gatherings of more than 30 people.

The Israel File: Numbers, Graphs and Extras

This post is part of The Israel File, our new Sunday newsletter that summarizes everything you need to know about the last week and...

Nick Cannon Read Bari Weiss’ Book on Anti-Semitism During Tisha B’Av, Calls it ‘Powerful’

"Today is a new day of improving our own words and actions towards clarity and compassion."

A Bipartisan Protest Movement is Rocking Israel and Growing by the Week

As the protests have widened in focus, demonstrators have faced harsh crackdowns by police, who have drawn criticism for using water cannons and tear gas.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum Says She Won’t Stand for Authoritarianism in Portland

When reports emerged of federal agents seizing protesters from the streets of Portland and putting them in unmarked vans, Rosenblum sued to get federal officers off the street.

The Pandemic’s First High Holy Days Season Has Synagogues Wondering: Will People Pay Dues?

Across the country, synagogues are bracing for a significant reduction in revenues.

Culture

‘American Pickle’ Director on Seth Rogen’s Very Jewish Double Role

"That’s what the movie is at its core: what it means when Old World customs meet new ones."

Shalhevet Institute Explores Black and Orthodox Jewish Identities

The four panelists were invited to give a constructive rebuke to the Orthodox community for the way that it deals with issues of race.

NY Comedy Club Owner Al Martin on What Stand-Up Will Look Like Post-Pandemic

I want to make sure we can get ready to open. It’s going to be a whole new comedy world.

This Penny Picture Frame Just Makes Cents

Have loose change rolling around in your house? Turn them into an art project!

A Jew’s Brazilian Journey Revived in New Translation of ‘On a Clear April Morning’

Marcos Iolovitch’s “On a Clear April Morning” is an especially exotic version of the Jewish immigrant experience.

Latest Articles
Latest

‘American Pickle’ Director on Seth Rogen’s Very Jewish Double Role

"That’s what the movie is at its core: what it means when Old World customs meet new ones."

Biden Fundraiser Focuses on Fighting Anti-Semitism

Jason Alexander will be moderating the event.

What This Tisha B’Av Meant for Me

Next Tisha B’Av may be different. We may be commemorating the loss of something much more meaningful.

Why We Should Care How Seth Rogen Went from Jewish Day School to Saying ‘WTF’ to Israel

Rogen is not just an A-list celebrity with a platform and a captive audience. He also is the product of Jewish and Israel education.

Ukraine to Let in at Least 5,000 Uman Pilgrims for Rosh Hashanah Chief Rabbi Says

The quota may rise as high as 8,000, but the pilgrims will have to wear face masks in crowded places and refrain from gatherings of more than 30 people.

Hollywood

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

‘Expecting Amy’ Highlights a New Comedy Dynamic of Jewish Mothers Making, Not Being, the Jokes

Jewish moms like Amy Schumer, who were once the material, have become the premier comics of this age.

Podcasts

Pandemic Times Episode 74: A Test of Jewish Resiliency

New David Suissa Podcast Every Monday and Friday. Rabbi Nicole Guzik shares her thoughts on "opting in" to communal life during these pandemic times. How do...

Seth Rogen’s in An American Pickle

Esther's already seen "An American Pickle" and Erin is still waiting; until the Bagels are brined and ready to discuss it, they join in...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x