Sometimes you never know where your next inspiration will come from. One might go days or weeks or even months without having that moment that stops you in your tracks; makes you question long-held assertions; reaffirms your life’s work. And sometimes that all happens within a 24-hour period, like it recently did for me.
It began on a Saturday night as I had the honor of attending “Jeremy’s” havdalah bar mitzvah, an intimate, meaningful and incredibly inspiring evening. Jeremy began his Jewish studies with Matan when he was six years old and on this Shabbat, 13-year-old Jeremy stood up in front of family and friends and talked about what it meant to him to be celebrating this milestone. What did he say? “I wanted to have my bar mitzvah so that nobody could tell me I wasn’t good enough.”
Still reeling from Jeremy’s statement, I boarded a train to kick off the second cohort of The Matan Institute for Early Childhood Educators. What an honor to work with close to 30 Jewish educators from 5 different states, all of whom are deeply committed to enhancing their efforts around inclusion. The keynote address, delivered by Amanda Morin (author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education), brought the second “take my breath away” moment in this 24-hour time-span: “Without exclusion,” Morin told our audience, “we wouldn’t have to talk about inclusion.”
And just 12 hours after that, I was sitting in the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway at Spring Awakening, an absolutely incredible, powerful and unique production that showcases both deaf and hearing actors, as well as the first-ever Broadway actor in a wheelchair. The show really is not about inclusion, which makes it a perfect platform to demonstrate inclusion. That’s what I was thinking about when I heard this from one of the actors: “What is best for each of us is best for all of us.” How many times that very day did I tell our Matan Institute participants, “Special education is just really good education!”? I absolutely love this new take on a concept that has become such a core element of my work: inclusion benefits everyone.
As those 24 hours came to a close, I realized that I had found profound inspiration from a 13-year-old boy, a speaker at my own conference and a Broadway actor. I will carry their messages with me, and I hope that you will, too:
We are all good enough, we each have the power to eradicate exclusion, and by working to include every person in Jewish life, we are ensuring a more fulfilling Jewish life for us all.
Meredith Polsky is Matan’s National Director of Institutes and Training