HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Special Needs
Arlene Kanter, director of the Disability Law and Policy Program at the College of Law at Syracuse University—and mother of two graduates from my day school—is currently in Israel on a Fulbright scholarship to help Tel Aviv University establish the country’s first academic program in disability studies. She was recently quoted as saying that what struck her most since arriving in Israel is how myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities transcend local cultural and religious boundaries, and how the fight for equal rights and social recognition for people with disabilities is a universal battle.

I would add that it is not only a universal but an ongoing battle, though fortunately one that we seem to be winning. This is not the first time that HaYidion has devoted an issue to special education in Jewish community day schools. The Chanukah 2005 issue also addressed the topic—in a twenty-page black and white newsletter with five articles. The current full-color issue of HaYidion is more than three times as long, with triple the number of articles, and while the problems delineated and the solutions offered clearly are nowhere near resolving the issue of equal and full access, they are a far cry from where we stood a mere six years ago.

The fact is that Judaism’s dealings with those with disabilities have not always been positive. While you will find many quotes in this issue’s articles citing Judaism’s positive messages about equality, the reality is that our faith has historically been less than welcoming to those with disabilities. The Torah exhorts us not to place a stumbling block before the blind, but a blind person is not permitted to read the Torah; persons with disabilities or “blemishes” were forbidden to become kohanim, and in many congregations today, assistive hearing devices are not allowed because they require the use of electricity.

In the Jewish community day school world, thankfully, understanding of the need to be inclusive and caring of those with special needs has become normative. The process has not been easy, and schools and parents and the children themselves have often suffered great pain and anguish as they have wrestled with the challenges involved in inclusive schooling. In the first-person accounts in this issue, you will hear of the heartbreak involved both for those parents who want their children to have a day school education and for those administrators who lack the funds to pay for the resources required. But you will also hear how commitment and perseverance, understanding and education have made tremendous progress possible.

We hope you will be informed and inspired by RAVSAK’s journal, and will be able to translate the ideas and programs described herein into meaningful Jewish educational experiences for all of your students. ♦

Dr. Barbara Davis is the Secretary of RAVSAK, Executive Editor of HaYidion and Head of School at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, NY. Barbara can be reached at shds@twcny.rr.com.

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