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Dr. Adolf Ratzka, blog

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Dr. Adolf Ratzka,  Founder and Director of Independent Living Institute in Sweden contracted polio in his teens and remained immobilized in his wheelchair while  facing many barriers  and accomplishing  a great deal.His words   resonate with me.

and I quote

As long as we regard our disabilities as tragedies, we will be pitied.

As long as we feel ashamed of who we are, our lives will be regarded as useless.

As long as we remain silent, we will be told by others what to do.”

In 2006, Kathy Laszlo and I  cofounded a parent driven  organization called DANI, (developing and  nurturing independence.)

DANI encourages adults to  recognize and empower  their own voice and not  remain silent.   We  help  students transition after high school into adulthood;   from a state of  learned helplessness to  self- advocacy;

The adults with  disabilities  in our community aspire to the  same good life as their siblings or peers- however,  we modify their route.  Our adults wish to live in their comfortable  neighbourhood enveloped by warmth and familiarity. Our adults  have an innate desire to work and spend valuable  and  meaningful  days developing and  contributing to their own lives.

A few years ago, I contacted the nurses of the  neonatal intensive care unit  at the   Hospital for Sick Children.  I wanted to bring our adults back  to the fragile start of  their journey- where many had   various convoluted  tubes, shaved heads,   weighed very little  and had poor prospects.  I wanted to show the nurses  who their delicate  infants had become-  thriving  motivated  adults  who are  just starting to  plan their lives.

DANI  develops  and nurtures  independence.

Dr. Adolf Ratzka  suggests  that independence does not mean that we wish tolive and work in a segregated  state of isolation without  others.  I would advocate that independence  and inclusion are symbiotic. One cannot exist  without the other and I feel that this concept is an unwritten ethical, moral  and principled agreement  of our entire  kehillah-  our community.


A Rite of Passage for a Boy With ADHD

By Robin Finn

As an advocate and a mom of a child with ADHD, I’ve learned to pick my battles. For me, my son becoming a bar mitzvah wasn’t an option; it was a must. But I wondered how he would approach these studies and what challenges might arise. Would he have the focus and patience required for tackling Torah?

The night we met with the cantor, my almost-13-year-old son announced from the back ofHe embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech the car: “I’m a scientist, and also I’m an atheist.” Great, I thought. This was a great time to tell us as we turned left into the synagogue parking lot. But my husband and I took it in stride.

“That’s fine,” I said. “You can discuss it with the cantor.”

And he did. The cantor went over the long history of great Jewish scientists and thinkers. My son was impressed. He was on board to begin his studies.

Over the next year, my son studied Torah. He got to know the cantor who would be officiating at his bar mitzvah. In the week of the bar mitzvah, to my surprise, he agreed to come to the 7 a.m. minyan and lay tefillin. He stood among the multi-aged congregation, wrapped in tefillin, and took his place among them as a man. Afterwards, the old and the young shook hands. Tears formed in my eyes.

My son’s bar mitzvah was a beautiful moment in our lives. He embraced learning and gave a thoughtful speech on the meaning of the week’s Torah portion. He talked about respect for your elders, your neighbor and yourself. I reflected on the many challenges we’d been through as a family as he had grown into himself. After Shabbat, the congregation gathered on the bimah to celebrate Havdalah. We swayed together, watching the glowing light of the candle.

For my son to become a bar mitzvah was important to me as a mother and a Jew. I wanted him to fulfill this Jewish rite of passage. And it truly was a “coming of age” as, before my eyes, I saw my son pass into manhood. His command of the material was wonderful, but his embrace of the meaning of the moment truly touched me. As he stood in front of the congregation, confident and compelling in his words, I understood why bar mitzvah was so important. He became a link in an unbreakable chain.

As an advocate, I appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process. It wasn’t about showing off your Hebrew fluency. Or sharing your knowledge. Or even showcasing your wisdom. It was about something larger—about taking your place within a community that goes back 3,500 years. As a mother, I hadI appreciated the inclusive nature of the bar mitzvah process struggled mightily over the years with not feeling accepted. A hyperactive, impulsive child is rarely at the top of the birthday party Evite list. Often, teachers don’t understand the challenges of ADHD, even well-meaning ones, even in a Jewish school setting. I had wounds that festered from preschool about unfair judgments and feeling left out, and my son being misunderstood. His bar mitzvah was not just a rite of passage for him, but a healing process for me.

Whatever my son’s challenges might be, the community wanted him to succeed; they were rooting for our family. I felt the love and support from the rabbi, the cantor and every person sitting in the sanctuary. We had been part of this community for a very long time. The sense of inclusion, acceptance and inspiration I experienced healed some very old wounds, and made me think about how love and acceptance can do that. Now more than ever.

At my son’s bar mitzvah, I was inspired by my child’s embrace of the community into which he was born. And their embrace of him. There were many lessons shared that day, but that one will stay with me always.

 ……from Rabbi Azoulay
Dear Friends,0705 Fast of Tammuz Website - 127 of 168
This past week I had the honor to be part of a great event in the city; the Zareinu Learnathon. Zareinu is a Jewish school and treatment centre for children with a wide range of physical and developmental challenges. For the last 7 years they organize a learning event and fundraiser at Petah Tikva, that is very well attended.
When thinking about children that are born physically challenged, thoughts of pity and sadness come to mind. But in the spiritual sense it’s totally opposite.
A couple who had a down syndrome child were feeling down when a great Rabbi told them that they have to view this child as a true gift and as if “they hit a homerun!”. He went on saying that when a normal child is born the parents must raise him in the proper way and ensure that the pure soul that he received will be returned to The Creator in the same pure form. But a child who is born with physical disabilities, his soul will be returned in the purest form because any “sin” that he does, he will not be held accountable for. The Hachamim in Kabbalistic works reveal that the soul of a person born with developmental challenges was once the soul of a great person who just needs to come to this world to correct and fix his soul. – Therefore such a child is a total blessing, as the parents are entrusted with caring for a pure and great soul.
This is a paradigm shift from our normal thoughts on this topic. The truth is masked in the physical disabilities that are visual to us.
This concept is the message of Purim as well. We dress up on Purim, in the entire Megila Hashems name is not mentioned and the story looks like many coincidences all strung together. But that is all the mask that covers the essence of the story which is that Hashem is behind the scenes running every moment and detail with the utmost precision.
Purim is a holiday that we don’t recite Havdala after it concludes, because this message of Purim is not separated from us but rather constant and must permeate to our entire year. This is also why Purim will remain a holiday even after the Mashiach comes.
May we relate to this message and look beyond the mask in our lives and in the challenges that we face; all to realize that Hashem is there holding our hands elevating us to a higher spiritual plain through our day to day struggles.
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Azoulay



According to Prime Minister  Trudeau’s tweet,  “Diversity is our strength.To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.”

Rabbi Moskovitz continues to  describe Canadian immigration policy as the “model for the world” and insists that Canada must “continue to serve as the example of goodness and decency.”

Perhaps my sense of goodness and decency  are differently defined. Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,  permanent residency cannot exclude according to faith, gender, religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.  Sadly, one group remains dismissed. A child or adult with disabilities is considered too burdensome for the system and the family is often rejected.  The Act continues to reflect the stereotypical image  and sends a clear message to Canadians with disabilities  that their lives are not as valued.

Adults with disabilities wish to be contributing and respected members of society, like their parents, siblings or peers.  They are capable  and characteristically hard workers.  As Minister Qualtrough, the MP from Delta, BC ,  stated at the First National Jewish Disability Lobby Day in Ottawa last week, “Employing adults with disabilities is not only the right and ethical thing to do-it also benefits businesses.”  I suppose that it is all just perspective: a  liability or worthy ?


We’re missing the boat on Jewish continuity

Jewish philanthropy that is focused on Jewish causes, such as trips to Israel, books to families, supporting Jewish education and summer camps, and the likes, is geared toward keeping our community Jewish and combating assimilation. We can agree that to ensure the future of our culture, we have a vested interest in ensuring that our younger generations embrace their Jewish identities and are proud members of our community. However, if our goal is to have a vibrant, growing community, we cannot afford to exclude a fifth of our community – that is, all those of us with a disability. About 20% of our population has a disability and instead of ensuring that they are fully included, we alienate them and their families through segregated sub-minimum wages workshops, separate education programs and inaccessible synagogue

Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society

Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society




This is not only wrong in and of itself, but the fact is that this kind of segregation alienates our younger generations. Younger people overwhelmingly embrace inclusion of all people and frown on segregation. If we stay comfortable with excluding a fifth of our community, our young people will turn away and find inclusive communities elsewhere. We cannot afford this loss of a fifth of our members, and with it the loss of our future.

On January 17, our Boston Mayor Marty Walsh delivered his State of the City address in which he made a powerful claim. He said, “At a time when cities must lead, Boston is the leader of cities.” If you don’t agree with him already, it is easy to dismiss such a statement as fancy rhetoric at best and self-aggrandizement at worst. While I can’t speak for the city as a whole, I can speak for Boston’s Jewish community. We have one of the most holistically inclusive communities in the country and offer a model that can, and should, be replicated in all cities.

These are unprecedentedly wealthy times for the Jewish community in the US and there is no reason that community leaders working together can’t transform their locale into an area that embraces inclusion. Collaboration was the first step to our journey as well.

Twelve years ago we partnered with Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) to ensure that Jewish day schools in our area became inclusive through our Initiative for Day School Excellence. Unlike public schools, private day schools are not by law obliged to be inclusive and offer education to students with learning disabilities, or any other disabilities. This meant that if a family wanted to give their child a Jewish education, if that child had a disability, they would be facing a lack of support and in some cases, a lack of welcome. If you exclude children from our schools, you exclude their families from our community. This simply is not a way we strengthen our communities. Quite the opposite.

However, Jewish educaation is of course only one aspect of our lives. To create truly inclusive communities, we have to think holistically and across a person’s full life span. This is also why we collaborated with CJP as well as Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) to create our Transitions to Work—an initiative that provides effective, hands-on training for young adults with disabilities to become gainfully employed in a competitive job market. We have to date partnered with over 75 employers in our area. This approach is crucial because similarly to education, there are not many, and sometimes not any, support systems for young adults with disabilities who have graduated school, but don’t necessarily have the skills, or social skills for employment. According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor statistics, only 20% of people with disabilities participate in the labor market. That means that 80% of people with disabilities are unemployed.

The exclusion that occurs without gainful employment is not only a financial one. For most of us, our work is where we socialize with others, forge friendships, and find a sense of meaning. It is absolutely imperative that communities practice inclusive hiring to strengthen the cohesion and productivity of all its members, while also strengthening the local businesses who benefit from loyal and competent talents they would have missed out on otherwise.

And of course we couldn’t have achieved a holistic approach to inclusion without ensuring that our synagogues valued all members of our community equally. In partnership with CJP, we launched the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project where we’ve created a network of synagogues committed to sharing innovative inclusion approaches that enable all members of our Jewish community and their families to attend services and fully participate. Our project includes synagogues from all denominations; after all, there is no group of people that does not include people with disabilities.

Statistically nearly all of us will become disabled at some point in our life. People with disabilities make up the largest minority in our country. It simply does not make sense to not fully include this huge segment of our population in all of our social milestones and life stages. So I challenge all Jewish communities to ensure that we live in accordance with our Jewish values and transform our communities into beacons of inclusion. For cities to lead, communities need to lead first.

Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading advocacy organization focusing on the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society


When Others Say ‘No’, Say ‘Yes!

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If you could achieve anything in the world, what would it be? If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? And what if everyone around you told you that neither were possible? For close to eight weeks of my year, I have the privilege of working in a place where we make the impossible possible. When others say ‘no’, we say ‘yes’ – and we spend our days and nights finding ways to turn that ‘yes’ a reality.

Camp HASC is a seven-week summer program in the scenic Catskill Mountains for close to 400 children and adults with mental and physical disabilities – although I can assure you that you will find no disabilities here. While during the year many of our campers may feel isolated, at camp everything becomes available to them and most see larger amounts of growth and achievement during these seven weeks than they do during an entire year’s rehab and therapy.

I work alongside some of the finest, hand-picked souls.  We are comprised of several hundred child-care staff, waitresses, dieticians, counsellors, therapists, educational experts, medical professionals, social workers, psychologists, behavioral specialists, recreational staff, rabbis, a team of kitchen and maintenance staff, and a kollel of young men.  We miss meals, sleep only a few hours each night, and wake early in the morning to ensure that our campers are provided with the highest levels of care and love.  How we function biologically is only possible within Camp HASC – because every aspect of our being is devoted to a cause much higher and holy than our individual selves.hasc logo

In my capacity as a social worker and member of the Psychology/Behavioral Team, I lead groups on social skills, communication, and conflict resolution for campers, meet with campers on an individual basis, and work together with my colleagues to create and implement behavioral plans for campers exhibiting challenging behaviors.  I assist counselors who are experiencing difficult moments with their campers and I help make camp that much more inclusive.  But what I really do transcends far beyond the scope of my contract or my typical 10am-8pm day.

Perhaps more than anything I’ve ever learned in my formal MSW program or any subsequent trainings or seminars I’ve participated in, my helping-philosophy has been shaped by my time spent within my summer home. Because in reality, I’ve come to learn that Camp HASC is not just a sleepover camp or an award-winning organization: it is a life outlook. It is a belief that each individual – created in G-d’s image – has a spark of holiness buried within, waiting to surface. It is a vision that there are no challenges too large to be capable of being overcome. It is a dream of success as being the culminating result of individuals coming together to bring more light and more love to others regardless of upbringing, communal affiliation, or personal beliefs. It is the mentality of never giving up: never giving up on campers, my clients, or myself.

I’ve also come to internalize that we do not do chesed here. Chesed in an act of kindness one bestows unto another: a relationship between giver and receiver. Chesed occurs when a benevolent individual does more for another than what is expected. Instead, in Camp HASC we live together for close to eight weeks, both giving to each other and learning more about ourselves from one another. And because there are no expectations of a fixed normality, no standards to judge ourselves or others against, we are all able to devote our efforts to constantly bettering ourselves as we gradually mend our fragmented, collective whole. Instead of forming a therapeutic relationship with my clients consisting of a bureaucratic contract of which I am the expert on their diagnosis, I strive to create partnerships which allow both of us to grow together.

The Masters of Kabbalah teach that in reality, we are each a soul trapped within a body, and it is this casing that holds us back from fulfilling our dreams and aspirations…or so we think. In Camp HASC, we focus on what lies beneath this shell, on the essence of every individual – campers and staff members alike. When scientific hypotheses predict that our campers should not be able to walk because they are wheelchair-bound, dress themselves independently because they have difficulty controlling their muscles, or play sports, ride horses, swim, or attend school because of he behavioral or developmental challenges that they face, we tell science otherwise. We push our campers because we know that they have a hidden potential buried within waiting to be actualized and illuminate the world around them.

Life is what we choose it to be; it consists of the relationships we choose to form, the growth we choose to make, and the people we choose to transform ourselves into.  Holiness knows no limits. The only thing holding us back in life is ourselves. When others say ‘no’, say ‘yes’!

Jonah S.C. Muskat-Brown (MSW) is from the Greater Toronto Area and is a social worker in the Camp HASC Psychology Department. He draws inspiration from a broad scope of Torah sources and professional theorists, and utilizes both to see the inherent worth in each individual. He is passionate about breaking down barriers between people, and strives to inspire others to become their fullest selves possible and never to settle for the lives others dictate they ought to live.

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Parent Quiz! A Little Humour



You know you are a parent of a child/ adult with disabilities when;

Check each statement  that applies to you ;

  • You drink an entire bottle of vodka when your caregiver quits. Any then you tell her she can have all of your jewelery, the car and the condo in Florida if she’ll stay.
  • You think wandering around the Mall by yourself for half an hour is a vacation.
  • You are convinced that families with ‘typical’ children are from another planet.
  • Your family has been prohibited from flying on all major airlines in the Western hemisphere.
  • You speak to at least 5 professionals per  week  about your child.
  • You use a minimum of 2 time-outs daily (preferably for yourself)
  • NOTHING embarrasses you in public anymore, not even when your child asks strangers if they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
  • You have just made the 52nd call about POSSIBLE summer plans for my child
  • Can you spell R-E-S-P-I-T-E
  • Your idea of time to yourself  is laundry, carpooling, dishes (note-visit to washroom not listed)
  • You start to hyperventilate at the mention of a PD day (professional development=NO SCHOOL)
  • Your child’s teacher tells you of a new therapeutic technique that would be oh so useful-if only it were used by a parent who truly understood and appreciated  it!
  • Your social worker replies to your urgent call by saying, “we’ll do lunch!”
  • Wheeltrans has mistakenly dropped your  child at the wrong community centre-but there will be another one in 3 1/2 hours
  • The Jewish community understands and is open to your needs as a parent
  • At the hemlock hour (4:00 pm-6:00 pm), you can cook dinner, do homework, with up to 3 children, toilet your  child with disabilities, talk to the plumber on the phone, sew the hem of a uniform and make a snack for the babysitter
  • You discover at the end of a parent teacher interview that you have been discussing the wrong child.
  • One specialist said, ‘This operation will definitely help your child.” Another specialist admitted , “The operation is useless and will just cause unnecessary pain.” The third specialist complained, ” We don’t do that operation in this country.”
  • Your son’s favourite book – ‘Barney Says Please and Thank You’ book is right next to his men’s size large underwear. Your daughter wants to go to Second Cup for coffee but would like it in a Winnie the Poo mug.
  • On the bookshelf in your bedroom, the book, ‘Marital Bliss’  is lost between ‘Autism Through The Lifespan’,  ‘The Original Social Storybook’, ‘Teaching The Autistic Child’, ‘Retraining The Brain’, ‘Teaching The Tiger’,  ‘More Than A Mom’, ‘Autism Solutions’, etc……1470167392


Scoring 10-20

    • Run do not walk to the nearest bathroom and luxuriate in a drawn bath until you forget the names and ages of your children
    • Double your dose of prozac/ valium/ cups of coffee
    • Tell your children that their real mother in South America would like them back…and start the  parenting process again…

    Scoring Under 10

    • Did you understand the scoring process
    • Lower your dose of prozac/ valium/ cups of coffee
    • You are the new facilitator of your support group
    • Run to the nearest walk in clinic and check for pulse, respirations, reality
    • You can easily handle 1-2 more children



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(Written for The Jewish Press‘ Building Blocks Magazine, September 2016)

“Special needs” terminology is insidiously poisonous.  This euphemism seems innocuous, but, in actuality, it corrodes and undermines the very strides for dignity, respect, and equality for which disability activists have crawled up the U.S. Capitol steps, effected the longest Federal agency sit-in in American history, and undergone arrests for civil disobedience at bus stations, legislative offices, and university campuses.  It keeps us, people with disabilities, separate (special) and in a disempowered position (needy) relative to others.  By referring to people with disabilities as “special needs populations,” society reinforces the charity (chesed) model of disability based upon neediness, a disempowering paradigm.

Need and Relational Inequality

Most people, especially in the frum community, are not familiar with the history of disability activism.  Historically, we have been perceived to be, and most often have been, in the position of being in need, dependent upon the kindness of our families and of strangers.  We have not been in control of our own lives and have been perceived as and treated like perpetual children (as evidenced by the title of this fine magazine, “Building Blocks”). This has led to a state of ‘relational inequality’.  Someone with “special needs” is by definition a person in a needy position relative to the other and is prone to be related to as such.  Disability activists rose in the 1970s to tirelessly fight against pity, paternalistic attitudes, discrimination, and to remove all barriers to full participation in society.  Identifying us in relation to our needs contradicts our strivings to elicit true respect for who we are and what we offer.

Owning Our Disabilities

Disability, in contrast to need, is a demographic attribute with no relational or interactional implications.   We with disabilities do however challenge the concept of normality and socially-defined notions of perfection.  We move, communicate, receive and process information, behave, or respond to social cues and environmental stimuli differently.  We are perceived as different and, yes, as having a disability relative to others, regardless of whether or not we need reasonable accommodations, assistive  yielded eons of prejudice towards people with disabilities.  Millions of people with “hidden” or “obvious” disabilities worldwide have been shunned, hidden away, mentally and physically tortured, and murdered.  Even in the frum community, we have historically been kept behind bedroom doors, disowned, and sent to residential institutions, in part due to social ostracization or the fear of such.

In America, Jews, Black people, and Women have effectively fought prejudice by proudly owning their identities.  Akin to these groups, the Disability community, boldly claims its identity; the very identity that has marginalized us.  Furthermore, within the Disability community, we have Deaf, Autistic, Blind, and Mental Health communities, etc.  Each sub-community has its own identity with shared world-views, experiences, expressions, aesthetics, and frustrations. We embrace our disabilities.  Social stigma, prejudicial discrimination, and lack of access and accommodations are the common experiences that unite our sub-groups into a unified sociopolitical identity.  I am a Jew with a [physical] disability.  An identity-first Jewish disability activist would say “I am a Disabled Jew.” As a sociopolitical entity, we collectively acquire esteem, power, and influence in our strides to become integral to our communities.

“Special Needs” Undermines Our Respect and Power.37 Dr. Seuss Rav Aharon Kahn Visits Tishe Bav Aspaklaria Concert Camper Banquet Web - 267

The term “special needs” is used to obfuscate disability.  “Disability” is a term that disturbs those who don’t know disability history.  But, in fact, “special needs” weakens us; it emphasizes our needsthereby highlighting our reliance upon others.

Moreover, the term “special” not only sets our needs apart from others, but by extension, the person becomes “special” and differentiated from the mainstream.  How many times have you seen the phrase “special children” in this magazine as well as in other publications?   In psychology, this is called “reaction formation.”  A person who we once pitied or feared somehow becomes special, amazing, or saintly.  But in reality, we still pity or fear that person on some level.

Disability activists, including myself, call upon media outlets, such as the Jewish Press, as well as service providers, community leaders, and caregivers to cease using the terms “special” and “special needs” when actually referring to people with disabilities.  Let’s confidently own our hidden and obvious disabilities and bond together in unison to command respect from our peers who have not yet joined our demographic.


November 28th, 2016

Jews with Special Needs: Strengthening   Community Through Inclusion

by Rabbi Mitch Cohen

“Those with special needs shouldn’t have to follow us. They can, in fact, lead us. Let’s empower them and give them the chance to be our full and equal partners in our Jewish community.”

10514495_725988610771732_1210013379666976262_nThe full story 

There’s a picture in my office from a Bar Mitzvah that took place about 15 years ago. It’s of a boy named Brad, being called to read the Torah for the first time at Camp Ramah in Canada, where I was director early in my career.

There are such moments across the Ramah network of summer camps each year, and I remember them all. But this one has particular resonance and meaning, and I want to be reminded of it.  Brad has Down syndrome. His synagogue had determined that he couldn’t have a Bar Mitzvah because he could not properly recite the brachot. I’m quite sure that this decision, back in the mid-1990s, was not made on the basis of anything other than a lack of perspective, resources and knowledge about those with special needs.

But despite all of the 21st century political correctness in our discourse, public accommodations in our infrastructure and spirit of inclusiveness in our society, those with special needs, like Brad, are still locked out of so many moments of meaningful involvement and growth.

Within the Jewish community – at our camps, our schools, our synagogues and other community organizations – this has been no less of an issue than in the mainstream culture.

But as a people imbued with a commitment to social justice and fairness, we share a special charge to address it through strong advocacy, new thinking and robust funding and execution of programming across the Jewish landscape.

Since that seed was planted, Ramah has expanded its special needs offerings exponentially across its network, with our foundation and philanthropic partners, to serve Jewish youth with autism, mental retardation, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental, learning, mobility and social disorders.

Programs include family camps, vocational training, and even trips to Israel, including one this February, for our youth with special needs. Constant is the immersion of Jewish youth with special needs into the camp population, so they can feed off the energy of  other campers, and so others – campers, counselors and American, Canadian and Israeli staff – can feed off them as well.

So why did it take four decades after Ramah helped to make special needs programming a priority for the issue to percolate to the top of the communal agenda? The answer is not all that important, although I presume it’s the maturing of a grassroots issue, and momentum created by Ramah camps and by schools and other institutions throughout the Jewish community where special needs programming and education has taken many shapes and forms.

But now it’s time for the community to look at Ramah’s models and those of others, support them with long-term funding, create an environment for collaboration, and allow special needs programming within the Jewish community to grow, become a part of the mainstream, and stand as an example to our broader society.

Back to Brad for a moment. After his triumph at Camp Ramah in Canada, his Jewish involvement grew. He ignited more Jewish observance in his own home, and he became a regular at

synagogue, inspiring his family to do the same.

This ripple effect is a constant and so often noted. The child or young adult with special needs – accepted, encouraged, and embraced at summer camp – is a catalyst for Jewish observance and education among siblings, parents and others.

Those with special needs shouldn’t have to follow us. They can, in fact, lead us. Let’s empower them and give them the chance to be our full and equal partners in our Jewish community.

Rabbi Mitch Cohen,  Director,   National Ramah Commission

From ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funding Conference,


November 21,2016

 Double Diagnosis: What it is like having Autism and having a Sibling with Autism

My brother Gabriel  and I both have autism. Noah, on the left, does not. I was diagnosed in October 2004, at the age of eight. Gabriel, four years younger than me, was diagnosed just prior to this. It has been an interesting experience having a brother who is also on the spectrum.

While we are very different, over the course of our lives, our relationship has changed numerous times. And we are finally, at the ages of 20 and almost 16, becoming close.

Named for an Angel

Gabriel was born on October 18, 2000, at Huron Valley Hospital in Commerce, Michigan. My initial reaction to gaining a second sibling was typical for a four-year-old… my logic was I already had a brother, so why would I want another one? But, over time, Gabriel began to grow on me.

I will never forget one night when he was about nine months old. For my fifth birthday, my parents had bought me brand new pajamas. I think they were designed with some Disney character. I was in my bedroom, with my mom and Gabriel. Somehow, I made him laugh so hard that he vomited all over me. I was five, so I got angry. But by the next day I forgave him.

I also remember having a CD I would ask my parents to play in the car, which featured some typical early 2000’s pop group, singing their version of Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. I remember singing over it to Gabriel. Because, for the first few years of his life, he was my world.

Everything Stays

Things changed when I was eight. After participating in a study at Detroit Children’s Hospital at the insistence of my therapist, a psychiatrist concluded I had Asperger’s Syndrome. This came soon after Gabriel had been diagnosed.

I almost immediately resented having autism, and because Gabriel had been diagnosed first, for whatever reason, I saw it as his fault, somehow. What can I say, I was a kid. It took me until my senior year of high school to accept that part of him and myself.

As we grew up, after my parents divorced, my dad moved out and I was bar mitzvahed, I saw it as my job to help alleviate how autism was affecting him. I would lash out whenever I thought he was acting ‘odd’, as defined by some part of my mind.

For a very long time, I actually disliked my own brother. I think it was due to the fact that, as the years went by, I saw in him behaviors I had exhibited at that age, and because I wanted to forget my past, I didn’t want him to go down the same road I had. So I was, frankly, horrible to him for most of his life.


At some point I realized that I did not want to spend my adult life having my little brother, whom, once, I had adored, hating me for how I treated him as a child. It was already starting to happen. I regretted all the time I spent taking out my own personal frustrations on him.

Acceptance came when I turned 18. As I began to find myself, I could accept all of who I was, and with that, I could accept Gabriel. Acceptance, however, does not always bring peace. After my freshman year of college, when I came home and Gabriel was completing middle school, I finally made peace with him. He’s my little brother, and nothing can change that.

With both my brothers, I have found that as we change with each passing year, our dynamic as brothers changes as well. I’m on the edge of my second decade, Noah is about to be a sophomore in college and Gabriel will be 16 in five months. We’re older, but not necessarily wiser. The three of us are still learning about who we are, and what we want in life. But I think that we’re learning together.

About Max Granitz

Max is a 20-year-old college student who just so happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. He will be a junior at Grand Valley State University in the fall, where he is working towards a Bachelor’s in Writing. He is an intern at the Friendship Circle of Michigan, and has been a part of the organization since 2004. Aside from writing, his interests include reading, the performing arts, and history.

Susie’s Blog

Susie’s Blog

Yes, you may call me naïve. I prefer to use words like optimistic and   positive.

As the daughter of 2 people who survived indescribable brutalities and then chose life, I absorbed the simple yet challenging concept of  protecting the individual  body and   spirit while assembling a  thriving and dynamic Jewish  community.

With this philosophy, I started to envision  the Toronto Jewish Disability Network. A network of all of the organizations   would unite in significance and strength  to build a proper community supporting our innocent neshamot (souls) with disabilities.  All of our children would be offered opportunities and a good life; each in a personalized, tangible or modified  approach. Side by side, we would pray and eat  together, learn and work  together, socialize together and live in the same neighbourhood.

This new website will be the centralized hub for disabilities in our Toronto Jewish community. Blogs, updated resources, events, news in the international  inclusion world, classified,  and more will be available for everyone.  There will be a fresh blog weekly, and I encourage you to participate and share  your sentiments, thoughts and ideas by  submitting a blog(please see guidelines below). I also encourage you to list yourself or your organization in partnership.

This  new  website will be a vehicle of communication  with people who are living with disabilities,  families, Rabbis, leaders, teachers, professionals and the entire Jewish community.

Your viewpoint, opinions and suggestions are valuable and essential.

This new website ours to share.

Looking forward to an incredible interactive website.

Susie Sokol

DANI, Director;;  905 889 3264 ext 226

Dear Community,

I am very honoured to present our first guest blog;

Shelly Christensen;   MA FAAIDD         Inclusion Innovations Minneapolis, MA               A pioneer in Jewish Inclusion

“I called the Jewish social service agency when my family moved to town to ask about services for my son, who has a disability. I will never forget the response I got when I asked about programs and resources for him., ‘I’m sorry. We don’t have any services for people with disabilities because we don’t have any people with disabilities in our community.’ “

Mother of a Young Adult with a Disability, 2002

Not that long ago this situation was more common than not in many Jewish communities. If that had been me making that phone call, I would have told my husband, with some degree of seriousness, “Honey, we’re moving back to where we came from!”

This mother’s story was not uncommon. I have spoken with so many people with disabilities and parents over the years who share similar stories. With every one, I wondered if this was a manifestation of communal insensitivity. Or was it a hesitancy to acknowledge that the image of perfection was simply a mirage, imagined by an entire community. The result was that nearly 20% of us who live with a disability diagnosis were shut out.

The awakening of our communities has been a slow and slogging trek, but it has been steady. More than accepting the existence of people with disabilities, there is a movement to engage them in community life. More than the obligation to accept their presence in our houses of worship and communal institutions, we have the responsibility to adapt existing programs and services to involve people with disabilities and those who love them so they too can be part of the tapestry of community life.

In 2002, about the time I spoke with the mom who was looking for services for her son, I was invited by the Toronto Jewish community to speak at the first gathering of Jewish community leaders at Camp Ramah. This three-day retreat, called “Opening the Doors,” signaled a community ready to change hearts and minds toward including people with disabilities.

There was a richness of perspectives among the participants, and we did a lot of hard work during those three days, including examining attitudes toward people with disabilities.

We spent a better part of a morning imagining a place where every person, regardless of ability, feels that they are welcomed and valued. Creating an inclusive community was like doing a puzzle. We thought about what each piece was and who was responsible for each particular piece. The community had just taken that first big step toward inclusion.

Much has changed in Toronto since 2002. The light of inclusion may have flickered from time to time, but now, in 2016, it is burning bright. The puzzle pieces we imagined all those years ago are coming together!

And now there is a place for people with disabilities, those who love them, and organizations who value and support their presence, to access resources that promote inclusion

and participation in all aspects of daily and communal living! Finding all of those resources in one location is a gift to the entire community.

Yes, the entire community!

Twenty percent of us have a disability diagnosis. We have family members, friends, co-workers, teachers, and neighbors. Each one of us in some way either knows someone with a disability or someone who is a family member. And, as I recall the words I heard David Lepofsky, that great disability advocate, say so long ago, “If you are not a person with a disability now, if you live long enough, you will be.”

This website is an important tool to gather information about all of the resources that support people with disabilities in every area of life. It can connect you to myriad organizations that provide services to people with disabilities as well as to the general public. It is a manifestation of the change in attitude and awareness over the last fourteen years.

Yes, the pieces of the puzzle we imagined so long ago have been coming together. Thanks to Susie Sokol for her passion, commitment and leadership over the years, she has added another piece of the inclusion puzzle! Kol HaKavod!


I Am Not Your Mitzvah Project

Comedian and inclusion advocate Pamela Schuller
Comedian and inclusion advocate Pamela Schuller

Because when we have a community that appreciates each person and what that person brings to the table, the entire community benefits. A fully inclusive community is celebrating the unique qualities that everyone brings to that table, creating a safer and stronger community — one of trust where people can be uniquely themselves.

Just opening your door is not a mitzvah; it’s a start. What happens after the welcome is what really matters. It’s the critical difference between being tolerated and being valued — that difference is everything.

Comedian and inclusion advocate Pamela Schuller