Inclusion in Jewish Education: A Shift in the Conversation

ruderman_lp_kids_resize508__1_1By Nancy Kriegel

Today, Boston day schools and the families of students with a wider range of disabilities are fortunate to exist during a time when the efforts of parents, educators, and, in particular, the Ruderman Family Foundation have coalesced to dramatically shift the conversation. It has taken persistent parents, some incredibly passionate and dedicated educators, the expertise of a unique regional special education agency like Gateways, and generous and visionary donors to shift the day school community’s thinking from what can’t be done – to what should be done – to what is being done – to what can still be done.

It has taken time for our community to see that inclusion is truly a Jewish value – that all individuals have something to contribute and are deserving of a place within our communities. Over the past ten years the Jewish day school culture regarding special needs education in Boston and nationally has undergone notable transformation. Yes, there is more to do – but if our present success is any indication of what is possible – I have no doubt that we will continue to witness great strides in inclusion in Jewish education.

Until recently, many people in the Greater Boston Jewish community were unaware of the myriad of difficulties that some students and their families face when seeking to be included in Jewish education. Today approximately 20 percent of students in Boston’s Jewish day schools have some form of special educational need. Not only do these students struggle with the academic and social challenges associated with their disabilities, but many of their families also face additional financial burdens.

With the advent of the Mort Ruderman Inclusion Scholarship Fund for Jewish day schools in Greater Boston, Mort Ruderman, z’l and the Ruderman Family Foundation are continuing to push the envelope toward greater and more robust inclusion. The vision of the fund is to ensure that financial needs are not a barrier to inclusion. Schools are granted funding to be used for financial aid for each student enrolled who has both financial and documented special needs.

In Mort Ruderman’s memory, barriers to access continue to be lowered so that more students in Greater Boston can be included in Jewish Education. This is a legacy that will have far reaching impact for students and their families and will without a doubt enrich our community for years to come.

For more information see www.cjp.org/our-work/jewish-learning/jewish-day-schools/morton-e-ruderman-inclusion-scholarship-fund

Nancy Kriegel is the Director of the Initiative for Day School Excellence at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies.