Inclusion Means Opportunities to Give Back to the Community, Too

Written by Suzanne Pollak on . Posted in Features

On Wednesdays, Melissa
Sachs learns Hebrew at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville, Maryland. On Thursdays, she works as a stock associate at AC Moore, an arts and crafts store. On Fridays, she cleans bathrooms at Staples.

“Mondays and Tuesdays are my relaxing days,” said Sachs. The 38-year-old is a resident of one of the 25 homes available for individuals with developmental, physical or mental disabilities in the Greater Washington area through the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH).

Thanks to JFGH, Sachs has been able to carve out a life for herself that is more social and less dependent on her family. The nonprofit organization, which was created in 1983, helps adults who have developmental, physical or mental disabilities become more independent and an integrated part of the community.

Jewish Orgs: Philanthropy will not be enough without Medicaid and ADA

Written by Suzanne Pollak on . Posted in Features

One-hundred-eighty disability advocates lobbied Congress on February 2, the seventh annual Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, expressing their support for the preservation of Medicaid and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Activists involved in helping people who have developmental, physical and/or mental disabilities gathered together to see how they could best help everyone to be included in society and become active participants in the Jewish community.

Advocacy Day “was important last year, and it will be important next year,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center (RAC), the Reform Jewish movement’s social action organization.

“Including everyone in Jewish and daily life is a core Jewish value,” he said. “We need to keep improving, not just hold the line. I think that is one of the hallmarks of the United States, that we keep building on programs.”

It is particularly important to remain vigilant this year, “because there is so much turbulence in the political system,” said Pesner. The RAC and the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) were the main sponsors of the day-long event. Participants listened to eight congress members and several disability experts before breaking up into small groups to lobby 50 members of congress.

“I think that the thing that impressed me the most was the fact that you have so many people there, from Chabad down to the non-affiliated. Everybody is sitting together, working together for one common cause, with the respect I find in very few places,” said Batya Jacob, director of educational support services for Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union.

“We all work together, because we all know the only way we will succeed is to work together,” said Jacob, who has attended Advocacy Day for the past three years.

Friendship Circle Marathon in Miami

Written by Natasha Nadel on . Posted in Features

Friendship Circle is an international organization that provides fun, friendship and Jewish community for children with special needs. A few weeks ago, 225 participants in the Friendship Circle’s marathon and half marathon in Miami raised over half a million dollars for Friendship Circle programming in their communities. For many Kol HaBirah readers, this event benefited your friends and neighbors, maybe even your family. For me, now returned from my second year of walking the half marathon for Friendship Circle of Maryland, I am more certain than ever that this will truly be an annual event in my life.

Over $67,000 was raised for our local Maryland chapter alone, an affiliate of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland directed by Rabbi Mendel and Chana Kaplan. In fact, out of all the teams around the country, Maryland ranked third in fundraising and was only behind the much larger teams of Miami-Dade (FL) and Brooklyn.

Congregation Beth El Hosts Panel Discussion About Inclusive Employment

Written by Kol HaBirah Staff on . Posted in Features

ETHESDA (Md.) –– There was a lot of activity at Congregation Beth El on the morning of Sunday February 13. There must have been 500 children in the Hebrew school, with many of their parents as well, connecting with their Jewish tradition. In addition to this usual gathering, however, a panel discussion on inclusive employment was taking place in a separate room.

The first speaker was Ken Karbeling, the general manager of America Reprographics, Inc., a Rockville-based company that offers a variety of reprographic solutions including traditional copying, scanning and printing as well as a variety of online tools. He talked about his company’s collaboration with The Ivymount School, a Rockville school that strives to help children, students and young adults with disabilities achieve their highest level of development and independence, and have the students work at his company.

My Safta: How Her Faltering Memory Taught Me Lessons in Life

Written by Bari Perlmutter on . Posted in Features

My Safta Esther Malka z”l was a true warrior. For my entire life, up until this past August, my safta had been fighting to live. Dementia struck her when I was still in diapers, and continued to slowly sap her abilities for the 23 years that followed. As my brain was slowly developing through my toddler and childhood years, hers was slowly declining. I couldn’t completely understand what this meant, but I tried my best to somehow accept it.

In elementary school, for instance, my most challenging subject was reading. However, whenever my safta was at our house, I would take a pile of books to her bed. For hours, we would sit together and read stories. Many would imagine this scene as an eight-year-old girl reading out loud while her grandmother helped her with any words she couldn’t pronounce. In my childhood, however, this scene was the reverse. My grandmother would be the one reading, and I was the one helping her along. Since I was going to school every day to learn, I believed that if I just taught my grandmother this basic skill, she would remember how to do it again.

Friendship Circle Lives Up to Its Name

Written by Ezra Troy on . Posted in Features

The Friendship Circle is a program started by Rabbi Levi Shemtov of West Bloomfield, Michigan, that gives assistance and support to 3,000 individuals with special needs and their families by providing recreational, social, educational and vocational programming. According to their website, their mission is to “create friendship in the lives of individuals with special needs and those facing isolation while providing an opportunity to become a contributing member of the community.” The Friendship Circle has branches all over the world that help with this mission.

Fighting for Israel — With One Arm Yosef Trumpeldor, the disabled Zionist hero

Written by Rafael Medoff on . Posted in Features

Yosef Trumpeldor lived a life of seeming contradictions. He was an assimilated Jew who became one of the most famous figures in Zionist history; a pacifist who is best remembered for his military career, and a man who, despite a significant physical disability, chose to return to the battlefield again and again.

Trumpeldor was born in Czarist Russia in 1880, just months before the onset of a three-year wave of more than 200 anti-Jewish pogroms. The violence offered a harsh lesson in the hazards of Jewish statelessness. Like many young Russian Jews of that generation, the teenage Trumpeldor took an interest in Zionism—but also in the pacifism and communalism of the philosopher Leo Tolstoy. Trumpeldor “did not have a trace of militarism in his character,” writes Professor Anita Shapira, a leading Israeli historian. 

Growing Up with Gregory

Written by Jessica Hilfer on . Posted in Features

Being the sister of a brother with disabilities is not difficult, but having the correct attitude about the situation–– that is the real challenge.

Gregory, my brother, is without a doubt my hero.

Gregory was born three years before me, but many of his significant milestones took place simultaneously with mine. My parents told me that I was the first one to actually walk, and a few weeks later Gregory took his first real steps off the wall. I think our roles have definitely reversed; now he inspires me to be courageous and to take chances.

Hashem’s Hidden Gems

Written by Rabbi Sholom Hoffman on . Posted in Features

The anticipation and excitement are building–– you have waited months for this special day. Finally, your child is born as you hear the cry of life on the other side of the room. You are emotional, on a high at having witnessed one of Hashem’s greatest miracles.

The dreams and expectations you have now are normal for most parents to have. It could be anything from smiling, crawling or babbling to walking, talking and socializing with others. It can extend to going to buy an item from a store independently, hanging out with friends, graduating from elementary or high school, going to a friend’s bar or bat mitzvah–– the list can go on and on. These are activities that most children will be able to do.

“Good Shabbos to You!” Enjoying a rich Jewish life as a disabled senior involves family and community.

Written by Deborah Scheinberg on . Posted in Features

In 1961, the chances of a cognitively disabled young man having a bar mitzvah were slim to none. Daniel Scheinberg, son of Samuel and Helen Scheinberg of College Park, Maryland, was fortunate to have parents who would not take no for an answer and equally fortunate to know Rabbi Morris Gordon.

The Scheinbergs were pioneers in new territory. In those days, special education services or any services for special-needs children was very minimal; Daniel’s father would later create a Boy Scout Explorers Post for many young men like Dan, and he taught them many adaptive skills and provided them with many experiences that would serve them well in life.

GWCK “Shabbos of Inspiration” Brings Community Together

Written by Rabbi Yonatan Zakem, Silver Spring on . Posted in Features

The Greater Washington Community Kollel’s annual “Shabbos of Inspiration” at Young Israel Shomrai Emunah is always an enjoyable and meaningful experience, and this year’s event was no exception. The Shabbat of Parshas Bo (February 3-4) was replete with Torah, ruach (spirit), song and prayer.

Beginning with the melodious and uplifting Kabbalat Shabbat led by guest chazzan Simcha Leiner, the Shabbos continued with a lively catered dinner, open to the community. Dinner was followed by a mini learning session with concurrent classes led by Kollel scholars, followed by a dessert buffet accompanied a zemirot-filled oneg Shabbat.