Rochester’s Jewish community is in the midst of an intentional transformation. The Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester is working with representatives of many of our Jewish institutions of learning in order to better understand how we can collectively ensure that our programs achieve the goal of providing as many Jewish students as possible with a relevant, engaging and educationally appropriate Jewish education. Additionally, we are trying to determine how we can enable more families to have access to the programs in our community and what accommodations and modifications will lead to achievement of this goal. This work is being done with great support from Matan, an organization committed to ensuring access to Jewish life for all.
In June, in my capacity as a Matan Institute mentor, I had the honor and the privilege of traveling to NYC for the opening program of The Matan Institute for Education and Youth Directors. I met with fellow consultants and passionate Jewish leaders from both the greater New York area and Rochester. We examined our current needs and began to set goals for both our schools and the greater Rochester community.
The transformation is powerful. Through conversations with people in our Rochester community, I see that we collectively want to embrace and include as many individuals and families as possible. I see leaders embracing a growth mindset as they work to serve a wider range of learners than ever before, while promoting and supporting each teacher’s ability to do this well.
I see teachers across the school and community working to understand the latest educational research. I see lesson plans that state how students will be enriched, engaged, and supported. I see people asking what they can do to make events more inclusive and welcoming to families. I see heightened sensitivity, increased awareness and a change in attitudes. But there is more work to be done.
One of the important lessons is that it takes all of kinds of Jews to make the nation of Israel complete. Peoplehood includes all of the people, not just some of the people. All means all. Similarly, it will take the active participation and inclusion of all kinds of Jews to make our Rochester Jewish community strong and complete. Over the High Holidays this year, as I reflected on the statements regarding who would be included in the “Book of Life”, my work with Matan resonated in my mind. As we asked “Who will be included in the Book of Life this year? Who will be left out?” I wondered, “Which children will get a Jewish education this year? Which families will be welcomed into our synagogues, schools, events and programs?” And sadly, “Which ones will be left out?”
But unlike the “Book of Life” over which we have no control, our community collectively has the strength, power and ability to influence who can participate in Jewish Life by increasing our sensitivity to the needs of our members and proactively planning to meet those needs.
May we all use our individual strengths to selflessly build the capacity, the collective desire, and the structures for support this year as we work together to ensure the availability and accessibility of Jewish life for all Jewish families in Rochester.
Hope Kantor is the Assistant Principal and Director of Pupil Personnel Services at Hillel Community Day School in Rochester, NY. She has worked with students with special needs since 1990 in a wide variety of settings. She is completing a program in Educational Administration at SUNY Brockport and will receive her certification as a School Building and School District Leader. This program has enabled Hope to refine her skills in helping teachers grow in their ability to meet the needs of each child. Hope is excited to join Matan as the Rochester, NY mentor and is looking forward to partnering with the directors of the Rochester synagogues to ensure that all students are able to access Jewish education.