Response to: Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Jewish Day School Field

To the Editor:

The January 6, 2016 issue of eJewish Philanthropy contained an article “Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Jewish Day School Field” by Dr. Harry Bloom of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE). As we know, the Pew report noted the important role played by Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivas in the sustainability of our community.

However, I would like to suggest that we further strengthen Dr. Bloom’s resolutions by integrating another dimension of sustainability: that which would result from including the 20% of Jewish families who have a child with a disability. At this time, and with few exceptions, Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivas pay scant attention to the needs and strengths of such families.

We at the Ruderman Family Foundation believe this population is neglected at our peril. We regularly hear about entire families who turn away from Day Schools and the whole Jewish community because their child with a disability could not be educated with his or her siblings.

Therefore I propose that Dr. Bloom’s resolutions #3 and #4 could benefit from some additional content:

Resolution #3 “Set energizing – dare we say inspiring? – long-term goals for our schools based on a thoughtful analysis of their environments, what our schools are doing well, and what they need to do better. Design plans to accomplish these goals….”

One part of any good plan needs to address how the school will accommodate and include Jewish students with disabilities. Their brothers and sisters are already there, and they and their families want and need them to be welcomed and educated.

Resolution #4 “Implement proactive – not reactive – student recruitment and retention processes that enable our schools to go on the offensive. Identify, cultivate, and attract mission-compatible families and students without assuming they will be automatically delivered by ‘feeder’ institutions or voluntarily show up to an open house.”

I could not agree more, so long as this resolution is modified to include all students, not just some students. The last thing Jewish institutions need to do is to exclude students and alienate families. Their missions need to explicitly welcome the diversity of our Jewish communities.

The benefits of inclusive education for all students is well documented. Let’s resolve, in 2016, to move towards inclusion in all Jewish institutions, especially Day Schools and Yeshivas. To do any less is a disservice to all our communities.

Beth Zwick, Senior Program Officer
Ruderman Family Foundation