/ AJT //
THE DEBATE CONTINUES
As a Jewish educator, I am so happy to read articles sharing my passion for creating learning opportunities for children with special needs and disabilities.
In response to the letter by “an Atlanta resident” in the Aug. 31 issue, I praise the writer for urging “our Jewish community to start working together and take care of our own.” However, I do not feel that the writer gave a full and accurate picture of what our community does for those children in our community.
At The Temple, we are proud to fully include all children and adults in all aspects of congregational life. In our school in particular, we have an inclusive learning program that serves over 75 students (well over 10 percent of an enrollment of almost 600 students) in our Sunday and Hebrew programs. During the week, these students attend traditional or special needs public and private schools.
Our congregation’s inclusion program, led by Stacey Levy, a licensed speech pathologist, creates learning plans (similar to Individualized Education Programs) for each of these students so they can be fully integrated in all classroom learning, activities and trips; educates our teachers to work with students who learn differently; and trains a cadre of over a dozen high-school-student special-needs facilitators each year to shadow students with moderate and severe needs.
Student needs in our program range from mild dyslexia to autism. Most importantly, all of our children are welcomed into the congregation as bar and bat mitzvah at age 13, no matter how severe or what type of special need or disability they have.
The Temple is not alone in serving children with differences. A grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and facilitated by Jewish Educational Services brought special needs awareness and education to our congregational schools in the early 2000s. Since then, the Education Directors’ Council of Greater Atlanta has been providing ongoing special needs training for our Hebrew and Sunday school teachers each year.
I feel that the writer of “Those with Special Needs are Underserved” has overlooked some of the successes and achievements of our community. As a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, I believe that all of our congregational rabbis (as opposed to “some rabbis”) take this issue seriously and work hard to include all of our children in lifecycles, especially bar and bat mitzvah.
As the 11th largest Jewish community in America, we [in Atlanta] certainly have a long way to go to meet all of the needs of our children and adults with special needs or disabilities. However, with strong congregations, great rabbis and educators, committed parents and the Amit agency all working toward the same goal, Atlanta can one day shine as a beacon for inclusion for the rest of klal Yisrael.
Rabbi Steven H. Rau, Reform Jewish Educator
Director of Lifelong Learning, The Temple