By SERGIO CARMONA, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month and organizations throughout South Florida have supported it in different ways.
So far this month, local Jewish schools have introduced a disability inclusion program launched by ALEH, an Israeli network of care for children with disabilities, to mark JDAAIM. ALEH is an acronym in Hebrew for Ezer L’Yeled Hameyuchad, which means assistance for the special child.
This program, ALEH Bechinuch, launched at Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton and David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie. It is aimed to educate students about the importance of disability inclusion, equity and access via interactive educational modules and disability challenges that were prepared for North American classrooms by ALEH’s special educators. These challenges includes the usage of objects including oven mitts, blindfolds, earplugs, bucket of Legos, a shape sorting cube and magnetic building tiles.
Nili Davis, Brauser Maimonides’ director of student development, said, “The goal of the program is for our students to have empathy, compassion and understanding of people with various types of disabilities, as well as to encourage inclusion and awareness of other people.”
Yudith Furman, BMA’s director of counseling, explained how the program exemplifies the school’s values.
“We have three strengths at this school, which are academic excellence, character development and Jewish values, so this program definitely aligns with our philosophy and the fact the we want to raise children that are caring about their community.”
Andrew Leibowoitz, Posnack School’s director of Jewish life from kindergarten through eighth grade, described how the new program aligns with the school’s mission and values.
“In terms of Jewish values, this is what we’re about. We’re about taking care of others, being compassionate, being loving and being inclusive. We sometimes take things for granted in life, and this is a good opportunity to show our children that our responsibility is to help others.”
Hilary Arenstein, Donna Klein’s director of enrollment and coordinator for community service, noted the program’s activities such as building Legos with oven mitts and being blindfolded while communicating are meant to put the students at a disadvantage and feel like they have severe disabilities.
“We give the students an opportunity to put themselves in these children’s shoes.”
Elie Klein, ALEH’s director of development for the United States and Canada who was in town to introduce the program at the local pilot schools, said the organization chose this specific month to introduce this programming.
“We though it would be easier for Jewish educational institutions to connect with an institution in Israel, but what we really hope long term is that we can extend this to public schools as well as these are messages that are really universal. We’re all human and we all will be touched by disability as we get older. These are very human concepts and realities.”
Klein was accompanied in introducing the program at the South Florida schools by Orah Lasko of Hollywood, who discussed how she advocates for her son, Jake, who has been diagnosed with a rare genetic syndrome called USP7.
Visit ALEH.org for more information on the organization, and dkja.net, brausermaimonides.org/ or posnackschool.org/ for information on the schools.