Chanukah in a New Light

I am over on Matan this week writing about the many similarities between Chanukah and inclusion.

inclusive spin on Chanukah; Removing the Stumbling Block

Chanukah is a festival all about light, centering around the ritual of lighting candles every night for 8 nights. One might even see it as an opportunity to “light up” that which is important to us – or that which we weren’t able to see during relative “darkness”. Consider taking a few moments this Chanukah to see things in a “new light”. The following comparisons, for example, may help to “light up” the ways that inclusion is truly a gift to our entire community. 

The Celebration of a Miracle
The story of Chanukah focuses on a miracle. Here the emphasis is on a tiny pot of oil. As the story goes, the Maccabees, upon reaching the destroyed temple, found a small bit of oil to light their holy space. Thinking it could only last one night, but lighting it anyway, this oil lasted for eight nights. The Maccabees underestimated what was right in front of them. Imagine if they had never tried to light the oil. How many of us have underestimated the ability of someone with a disability? When we hold the same expectations for those with disabilities as we do for anyone else, we open ourselves to a world of possibility. Rich opportunities await us every day. Maybe not for miracles, but certainly to see every person’s full potential.

The Shamash – We All Need a Helper!
Back to the oil. In celebration of it lasting eight nights, during Chanukah we light a special, nine-branched menorah (lamp). The eight candles represent the eight days, and the ninth is the shamash, an attendant, or helper. From the shamash we can learn that there is no shame in asking for help. Ever. The beauty of Chanukah is that no other candle on our chanukiah (menorah) can be lit without the shamash (helper). When we set an example of relying on one another for success, we create a powerful model of inclusion that enables all to experience the light.

The Growing Light
The Talmud records a debate between two schools of thought in lighting the Chanukah candles. The House of Hillel says to light the candles in ascending order, with one candle the first night and eight the last night (the way that became the tradition), whereas the House of Shammai argues that they should be lit in descending order, with eight candles on the first night and one on the last. Hillel’s approach represents counting the number of days as they are actualized, with increasing anticipation and joy, rather than Shammai’s method of simply counting the days of the holiday that remains. This, too, is a metaphor for the power of inclusion. When we engage in inclusive practice, we increase both opportunities and our own capacities for increased inclusion.

Playing Dreidel

And that’s the point! Everything we do, everything we say – the way we act, the way we treat one another, the way we think about community – either is or is not inclusive. Inclusion is not the Chanukah (or any other) program you run where you specifically invite people with disabilities. Inclusion is making sure that every program, every event, and really every day, fully welcomes everyone and that everyone knows he or she has a place to participate.

Nothing Goes to Waste

Inclusion is a mindset; Removing the Stumbling Block

I have had the good fortune of connecting with many wonderful bloggers who care deeply about the inclusion of people with disabilities. I am always honored to write guest posts for and collaborate with these amazing advocates. So I jumped when such an opportunity came from Snappin' Ministries. I have said often that to be truly inclusive we must model it in all aspects of our lives. And so I think it is wonderfully significant that a Christian ministry, dedicated to supporting people with disabilities, eagerly shared a teaching from a Jewish educator. We need more of this in our world. 
“But Moses said to God, ‘Please, God, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ And God said to Moses, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind?  Is it not I, the Eternal?’”
(Exodus 4:10-11)

It might have been easy for God to say, “You know what, Moses, you’re right. I am asking too much of you.”

It might have been easy for God to say, “You know what, Moses, give it a shot and if it’s too hard, we’ll find someone else.”

It might have been easy for God to say, “OK, Moses, your brother, Aaron can do it.” (Instead)

It might have been easy for God to underestimate Moses’ abilities, but he didn’t. God believed in Moses and reassured him by reminding him that God’s choices are perfect. In fact, God designated Aaron to speak for Moses when he was unable, as his aide, and thus demonstrated the first formal act of true inclusion seen in the Bible.

Too often we underestimate others abilities. Too often we fail to presume competence.

Haven’t you done it? Given in too easily when someone in our care complains that what we are asking is just too much? How often is it easier to just let a sibling complete the task? How many times have we given up due to our own frustrations? How often have we neglected to even ask?

Inclusion is a mindset. It is a way of thinking. It is not a program that we run or a classroom in our school or a favor we do for someone. Inclusion is who we are. It is who we must strive to be.

To be inclusive we must presume competence. To be inclusive we must recognize each person’s right to belong. To be inclusive we must recognize the gift that each and every person brings to the world. 

Read: The Cracked Pot

The moral of the story: Each of us has our own unique flaws. We're all cracked pots. In this world, nothing goes to waste. Each and every perceived flaw is truly a blessing in disguise. 

To read the original article, please visit Comfort in the Midst of Chaos

Modifying Hebrew Lessons for Students with Disabilities

How to Modify Hebrew Lessons for Students With Disabilities: Removing the Stumbling Block

When seeking to make a classroom more inclusive, there is a lot to consider. Toss in the abundance of terminology and many teachers find themselves feeling confused and frustrated. I have been a special educator for over 20 years and read a lot in this area, and even I find myself frustrated with the way certain terms are used interchangeably.

Let’s focus on the concepts of accommodation and modification and their use in academics for individuals with disabilities as there are distinct differences to their application in a classroom setting.

Here’s a terrific overview:
Accommodation vs. Modification

Accommodation is a strategy used to help a student with learning needs in the same curriculum as his/her peers while modification is a strategy used to help a student with significant learning needs experience the same curriculum as his/her peers.

Unfortunately, teachers in supplemental religious schools often feel untrained and ill-equipped to make such distinctions, especially when it comes to Hebrew instruction.

I can already hear them saying, “Ok, so I am teaching the Avot to my students. The Avot is the Avot. I can’t change the liturgy. How can I possibly meet the needs of a wide variety of learners?’

First, think about a different question: Why are your students learning the Avot? 
I’ll come back for your answer.

Now, let’s go back to the graphic above. Here’s a little more explanation. We accommodate our students’ learning needs when we allow them to use varying modalities and/or different strategies to meet the same goals as other students. We modify lessons for those students whose goals are different than the rest of the class.

Confused? Don’t be. Here are the examples. (Remember, you are working with the Avot, but you can do this with any prayer, text or Hebrew reading assignment).

Accommodations could include:
·        Providing extra time
·        Listening to a recording
·        Partner reading
·        Breaking the prayer into manageable sections

Modifications could include:
·        Identifying all of the alefs (or whatever letter(s) student may be currently learning) in the Avot
·        Listening to a variety of prayers being read or chanted and student identifies the Avot
·        Printing the lines of the Avot on strips of paper and student arranges them in the correct order (either from memory or while looking at the complete prayer)
·        Finding the Avot each time it appears in your synagogue’s siddur (prayer book).

Before you suggest that any of those modifications won’t work or worse, that such modifications aren’t fair, let’s go back to my earlier question: Why are your students learning the Avot?

I hope that your answer included: so that they become familiar with the liturgy, so that they become comfortable with worship, so that they can participate in worship services or so that they can lead a worship service. I would agree that those are all meaningful goals for why we teach prayer in a supplemental religious school.

Now, look back at the modifications I suggest. Each one of them helps to meet those goals.

Students do not have to all be fluent Hebrew readers. Students do not have to all read & understand Hebrew perfectly. They may not even read it at all. If our goal is to help our children to develop strong Jewish identities, pride in their heritage and a love of our traditions and faith, who is to say how that should be accomplished?

Go ahead, make the accommodations. Modify your lessons. You may just help your students develop a deeper connection to their faith. You may have just helped them to cement their place in the community that supports them.

It Is NEVER Ok To Use Disability As An Insult

words matter disability semantics

Our words matter. 

Remember the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."? Not true. Not true at all. 

Words can hurt. A lot. And there is real potential for lasting harm. It's not just semantics.

So when I learned that an official in the Obama administration referred to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu as "Aspergery", I was relieved to see this statement from Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation:

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

The full statement from the Ruderman Family Foundation can be found here and on Businesswire. The original article by Jeffrey Goldberg can be found here.