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Top Ten Things to Know About Jewish Special Needs Education

Meredith Polsky

Top Ten Things to Know About Jewish Special Needs Education

All of us are created b’tzelem elohim, in God’s image.

Each of us is exactly as we should be and worthy of living a meaningful Jewish life. No one has the right to judge what is “meaningful” for anyone but themselves.

Fair isn’t equal. Fair is when everyone gets what they need.

Fairness is a concept frequently confused with equality. One of the best explanations of this concept comes from Rick Lavoie. Read more here.

Special Education is good education.

This is a mantra for us at Matan. The strategies, values and goals that make special education successful are actually the strategies, values and goals that will help all students find success.

Inclusion is not a place.

Inclusion is not a single classroom in the school or any one person. It is a way of helping students to reach their highest potential. It is fluid, flexible and ever-changing.

Inclusion is NOT social action.

We do not “do” inclusion “for” people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how everything we do can be inclusive. This is especially important for those working in synagogues to keep in mind.

Differentiated Instruction (or different expectations) for individual students is absolutely fair and appropriate.

Students should never be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation. All students should be working toward progress from their own current level of functioning.

Students are not always children.

There is often an assumption when one discusses Jewish education to assume that all students are children. Adults with disabilities must also have opportunities to grow and learn Jewishly.

Professional development for teachers is critical.

One-shot, one-day training is a terrific starting point (bring Matan to your community!) Teachers working with students who have a wide range of abilities and disabilities also need ongoing support and opportunities to strengthen their own techniques.

Intentional planning is critical for success.

It is equally as important to provide ample time for planning as it is to build in time for feedback and reflection. It is also significant to build in time for teachers to collaborate with one another.

Partner with parents.

Open and supportive communication with parents is essential for a successful Jewish supplemental school experience for any child, especially those with special learning needs. Read: Parents as Partners.


Lisa FriedmanLisa Friedman is Matan’s Blog Manager. She is also an Education Director at a Reform congregation in Central New Jersey where she oversees the synagogue’s and religious school’s inclusive practice.

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