Organization: Jewish Learning Venture, Jenkintown, PA
Grant Year: 2021
Project Director: Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
Type of Grant: Signature
Grant Amount: $100,000 (2 years)
Jewish Learning Venture – To train educators to be jkidACCESS Guides in order to engage families raising Jewish children with disabilities while simultaneously providing Jewish experiences and learning for those families.
Why did you choose to work in Jewish education?
I grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania and our Temple was the focus of our family’s social and cultural as well as religious/spiritual life. I was a kid who really enjoyed going to Sunday school! My grandparents (including my maternal grandfather who was a refugee from the Shoah) all had an important influence on my interest in Judaism and Jewish education as well. After studying theater and creative writing as an undergrad, I returned to Jewish education as a profession in my mid-20s, because I loved teaching kids and wanted to integrate all that I had learned creatively into Jewish education.
What has it meant for families to have their Jewish experiences and learning prioritized in this way? What feedback have you received?
Our jkidACCESS families have really appreciated the specially designed kits for Jewish learning at home and the programs that we’ve created. Each kit includes materials for children with cognitive and learning disabilities as well as sensory and fine motor challenges. We’ve also heard from parents who have valued the parent/caregiver programs that we’ve created, and how much they value being with peers who can understand their unique parenting journey.
What are some steps synagogues have taken towards greater inclusivity as a result of this initiative?
We have raised awareness about universal design in synagogue family program planning—sharing ideas that congregations can implement for all programs. One example is having a quiet space available so children who need a place to decompress always have it, and letting parents/caregivers know that the space is available. Another important change is encouraging synagogue professionals to get in the practice of asking about whether folks need accommodation to participate in an event.
Learn more at www.jkidACCESS.org.