Saturday, March 3, 2012

D'var Torah by Rabbi Levin in Nebraska

This was sent to me by my cousin's wife Rachel Winthrop who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and still has ties to there.
The Potentially Limitless Sky: My Struggle with Learning  Disabilities
by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren

Remarks on receiving the Lab School Award for Outstanding Achievers  with Learning Disabilities

I've participated in  several wars in my life and, while serving as a secret Israeli emissary to  Soviet Jews, was arrested and interrogated by the KGB, but one of the scariest  moments in my life occurred here, in the United States, when I was  sixteen.

I grew up in your average  suburban New Jersey town-think Happy Days-the home of Thomas Edison's laboratory  and the backdrop to the first two seasons of the Sopranos.
The school system was  average, too. Like many suburban schools, mine had adopted the tracking system  popular in the 1960s. Under this system, successful students were placed in  classes with other successful students, less promising students with other less  promising students, etc. The idea being that these "tracks," as they were  called, would enable students to learn and advance at their own pace without  feeling left back to far behind or, conversely,  under-challenged.

Invariably, the smarter  tracks got the best teachers and who, in turn, gave out the highest grades. I  was an unsuccessful student, utterly unpromising. And I was put in the lowest  track. My teachers were generally the least qualified or motivated, their main  task being to keep a lid on the relentless chaos reigning in the class and  prevent it from spilling out into the hall. We received the grades our teachers  expected us to get, which was irrelevant because learning in such an environment  was simply impossible.

There was also the  indignity of being in what everybody in school knew was the lowest track-a  special dishonor for me, coming from the Jewish community where young people  were expected to excel academically.

How did I get there? I  had always been what used to be called a "problem student." Bored in my  elementary school classes, I was a discipline problem and spent many hours-even  days-in the principal's office, missing the class time devoted to basic math and  grammar. Not that I could master basic math and grammar. I could do neither. As  an adult, my kids used to make fun of the fact that I couldn't help them with  their third grade math homework and didn't know my multiplication tables.

In addition, I was fat,  athletically "uncoordinated"-so they called it-and socially inept. In short, a  walking disaster area. There were no tutors, no allowances for  disabilities-there weren't even terms for the handicaps I had. And there was  certainly nothing remotely like the Lab School.

By age 13, I was  friendless, confidence-less, and failing out of school. I spent much of my time  alone, wandering in the woods or alone in my room.

But then I began writing  poetry. First, in the woods, in my head, and then in my room, in a notebook.  Soon I'd completed a book-"Who Cries for the Soul of the Pigeon"-and then became  publishing individual poems in august publications such as Seventeen Magazine.  The Star Ledger even wrote a story about me, "Teen Poet Fights to Get Foot in  Publisher's Door."

Still, it took my school  three years to notice and only when I was 16 did one English teacher, Mr. David,  a man to whom I am fathomlessly grateful, allow me to enrol in one honors  literature class.

I was terrified. Shaking.  Here were all the talented students, members of the highest track, and I had  come from the lowest. Furthermore, I knew nothing. I did not know how to turn in  a homework assignment. I did not know how to spell. Imagine the horror! I  faltered miserably, at first. Mr. David insisted I rewrite my papers and that I  consult a dictionary for all words over two syllables.

Yet, painfully, doggedly,  I began to get it. I began to get good grades-and not just in that English  class. And those grades enabled me to escape my other lowest-track classes. I  lost weight, refashioned myself into an athlete, and forged  friendships.

But my learning  disabilities remained. There's a popular wisdom that students get 250 points on  their SATs just for putting down their names. I got 230. My guidance counsellor  smiled at me empathetically and recommended a good community  college-maybe.

I took me another try to  realize that I suffered from a dyslexic problem: I was unable to discern  straight lines. The result was that I was filling in the answer to question 4 in  answer box 6. Consequently, I asked for what was then unthinkable-that I be able  to take the SATs again with a ruler. Later, my guidance counsellor called me  down to her office. She wasn't smiling anymore. She wanted to know how my score had jumped 400 points.

Though I managed to  emerge from those difficult years and, yes, to register some successes, I've  still had to wrestle with my disabilities.

Another dyslexic  handicap-an inability to transfer images from a topographical map to the actual  topography plagued me throughout my military service. I still can't see straight  lines and I still don't know my multiplication tables. But I've learned to  sidestep these obstacles. I've learned to appreciate the assistance of a wife  who is very good at straight lines and true wizard at math.

Together, we have raised  three sensational kids, each of who suffered from learning disabilities every  bit as onerous as my own, if not more so. We were able to give our children the  assistance and understanding they needed to overcome their disabilities. And we  were fortunate to raise our children in Israel, a country singularly sensitive  and committed to educating special needs students.

Our eldest son, a fluent  Chinese speaker, has just graduated from Columbia. Our daughter is working on an  advanced degree in special education. And our baby boy is becoming an officer in  an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

These children-not the  degrees, not the books, not the ambassadorial titles-are my greatest success in  life. And for that I owe an incalculable debt to those like Mr. David who lent  me a hand and lifted my out of that lowest track, who showed me that stretching  above the even the darkest and deepest craters is a bright and limitless  sky.

Shabbat  Shalom!
Rabbi  Mordechai Levin

Reflection of Today's Events

Today I spoke to 5-6 graders at Adath's Saturday Morning Program about Disability Awareness and I also had an aliyah during services. It was a nice day. My cousin Eddie Winthrop also spoke with me about his perspective growing up as a relative of a person with a disability.  I thought I would post the D'var Torah I did with Rabbi Kaufman and Paula Fox on February 27, 2009. 

Rabbi Kaufman:

Shabbat Shalom. Two members of our Adath community will present today's d'var Torah in honor of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. Marlee Kivens and Paula Fox will speak about their own experiences, as people who live with physical disabilities, and will frame their accounts through the teachings of this week's parshah.

Marlee acquired her disability at birth, and Paula in her late 20's. So they will share very different life experiences with us. Both women are active members of Adath, and are well-known and well-loved in this community. We are especially grateful that Marlee has recovered sufficiently from her recent fall to be with us. It is my pleasure to present Paula Fox and Marlee Kivens.

Paula Fox:

The sanctuary is a tangible representation of a "sacred space" and is described in parshat Terumah as being made of precious metals and materials, reflecting its importance and value. However, what truly makes the space sacred is the people who come there, and their connection to God.

In the Torah, the sanctuary is described as a "meeting place," and it is that communal aspect that makes it particularly special. Just as the cherubim that appear over the ark confront each other, face each other, we come together with God and others in the congregation. Being face to face, looking at the other person directly, is an important way of connecting with that person. Sometimes people are unwilling or afraid to look directly at a person with a disability, a reaction which isolates that person from the community.

Marlee Kivens:

The Torah portion speaks of building a place where everyone can go to pray, worship, ask for forgiveness. Building a community. I now feel a part of Adath Jeshurun community, after many years of not feeling I belonged.

My story starts out in Sunday School in Miss Dolly's class. My peers made fun of me because they didn't understand why I was different. They would call me names and pretend to walk like I did or just stare and point at me, laughing.

As I got older and went to SMP and Talmud Torah I didn't feel accepted because I couldn't follow the lessons very well. My writing was very poor, and speaking in front of the class terrified me. I kept to myself. I made a few core friends in Talmud Torah but I didn't keep in contact with any of them after graduation. Sometimes I felt they were friendly with me because they felt obligated to, or felt sorry for me, and not because they truly liked me or wanted to be my friend. I had numerous sleep-overs and parties at my house, but I don't remember being invited over to other people's houses much.

I had a few Jewish friends in my neighborhood, but they were older or younger than 1.1 didn't join Adath Kadimah or USY because by that time people had already chosen friends and I didn't feel accepted. It was cliquish. From what I remember, the old building on Dupont wasn't user friendly either. The floors were slippery in winter, the stairs always made me nervous. I rarely took the elevator because it was old and creaky. I was scared I was going to be stuck in it.

I went to B'nai Emet Kadimah and USY because David Kaufman was there. David is a cousin of mine who used to be my "protector" when I was growing up. He would make sure I was okay and tell me I was no different then anyone else, while at Talmud Torah, when someone treated me differently. He would get mad and straighten someone out if I was teased or harassed, or even if they just looked at me and stared. I wouldn't have gotten through the early years without him. I don't think that to this day he knows how much he has meant to me, and how much I looked forward to seeing him at Talmud Torah.

I also went to B'nai Emet because the core friends I had made in Talmud Torah chose to go to that Kadimah and USY over their own various synagogues. Jeannie Levinson Gilfix was also one of the Youth advisors.

Jeannie was the person who encouraged me during the training for my Bat Mitzvah. She helped me to learn the Torah portion, haftarah, and prayers. 1 learned everything with a recording and memorization. She believed I could do it. My family believed I could do it. Rabbi Cytron knew I could do it. He was also was a mentor to me growing up. If he believed I could do anything, then I could. Rabbi and Mrs. Cytron treated me like everyone else. They saw no difference in me.

It was very empowering to have a Bat Mitzvah and be confirmed at Adath. Those two things stick out as the happiest times at Adath. With the support of my family, Jeannie Gilfix, Rabbi Cytron and Mrs. Cytron I could do anything I set my mind to. There were no barriers. I may have a different learning style due to my disability but I could do anything I set my mind to.

After high school I went to Drake University for a year. I transferred out of there because I was not happy. I transferred to University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall semester of 1990.1 helped start a disability support group called Access For All. I was the co-president throughout my time with the group. There was one other Jew on campus that I connected with, Ross Shaich, and we have been friends for 18 years.

It wasn't until a few years ago, when Shelly Christensen of JFCS sent out surveys about including people with disabilities in Jewish life, that I became involved again in our community. My parents told me about the survey and the open forums that were being created to get feedback from people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. I participated in one of the open forums and started a working relationship with Shelly. She encouraged me to find my voice and use it in our community. It took a while but I found my voice.

Jeannie started the Inclusion Committee at Adath and I joined soon after it was created. Jeannie called me and told me I had to be part of this ground-breaking work. I accepted. I was on her committee for many years before she stepped down to become a board member and I took over the role of inclusion committee chair. From that I joined the membership committee, and was asked to be a part of the education advisory board at Adath.

I have found that if I want inclusion to be on the forefront of people's minds I have to voice my concerns. I can't just complain about it and not do anything about it. I started a web-site called Empowering Jews With Disabilities to give myself an outlet to help empower myself and others with disabilities. I highlight articles about people with various disabilities; I have links to different disability organizations and synagogues. I have a chat room and social network groups for people with disabilities to go to and talk, ask questions, meet others with all types of disabilities, and learn how to empower themselves.

It has been a long road. I am finally happy with who I am and what I have become, because I have a sense of community now. I can come to Adath and feel a part of something. I am making a difference. I give back to my community because they are giving something to me now. God told Moses that the Israelites could give gifts such as gold, silver, and cloth to the tabernacle if they wanted to, if they chose to. Everyone has something to contribute if they want to.

Paula Fox:

My spinal cord injury occurred when I was 27 years old, two years out of graduate school. I was a clinical psychologist, working at a very high stress job at Hennepin County Medical Center. I was married, no children. My husband and I were members of Adath and participated in activities there. After my injury, I continued to be a psychologist although working in the schools rather than a clinical setting. I continued to be a very hard worker although I tried to do my work by staying late at work rather than by bringing the work home. I continued to be involved in the synagogue. I was lucky to have a community to support me. My husband stayed with me and encouraged me to build my independence, learn to drive with hand controls, and return to work. His attitude was, "The more you can do for yourself, the less I have to do for you." His attitude helped me maintain an upbeat, positive attitude. Family and friends also offered great support. I was lucky that my graduate school advisor, who specialized in rehab psychology, was willing to arrange volunteer opportunities to get me back into professional activities.

Of course there were bumps along the way. In 1975, awareness of disability was new and rudimentary. When I applied for my current job, the personnel director assured me that the building was accessible but then met me in the parking lot because he realized that there was no curb cut. At Adath, a meeting of a committee I was on was scheduled in a part of the old building that was not accessible to wheelchairs. Not an intentional slight but just thoughtless, planning for the general population without taking into account my particular needs. On occasion, that also happened on at work where meetings were scheduled up a flight of stairs.

Of course, private homes cannot be expected to be wheelchair accessible, and therefore I was unable to participate in certain social events at friends' homes. Sometimes, people were afraid to ask what I was able to handle. For many years, I walked with crutches and could get up a few steps into a home. But people tended not to ask me directly. When an event was being held at someone's home, it was up to me to ask the host about their home so that I could judge for myself whether it would be feasible for me to attend. And I clearly lost some friends who were just uncomfortable with my disability, in contrast to those who were willing to accept me and make adaptations. Even in the synagogue, people often don't come into the same row where I am sitting. That way, they can keep a distance, not look me in the eye, not have to ask me to move.

My disability was certainly unique to me and has changed over time. Although I have participated in a spinal cord support group, all the members of the group are different, with different needs and abilities. I felt fortunate because I was pretty active and high functioning. Learning to walk with crutches took foot surgery and a great deal of physical therapy and intensive effort, but it extended my mobility greatly. Using my crutches, I could get up some stairs, into inaccessible bathrooms, down the aisle of an airplane.

What was accessible to me was not accessible to everyone with a spinal cord injury. However, the effects of age and wear and tear did take their toll. Whereas I used to walk for exercise for 30 to 45 minutes at a time around the neighborhood or around the lakes, I gradually reduced that amount after experiencing wrist and shoulder injuries. Maneuvering the outdoors became more wheelchair-dependent, and I saved the walking for times when it was functionally necessary.

Then last May, it all changed. I was working full time one day, and the next day, I collapsed in my bathroom. What was first thought to be a bladder infection turned out to be a severe pressure sore and infection which ultimately resulted in the amputation of my left leg. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I acquired a totally different disability, on top of my spinal cord injury. It was like starting all over again - intense rehab, intense effort learning to do things differently.

Some of the differences are visible, like not having one leg. It's the young children who are most openly curious, staring and asking, "Where did your leg go?" I never mind answering their questions because after all, they are just trying to learn about the human body and individual differences - a healthy awareness. Some of the differences lay in the comparison of what I could do before my amputation and what I can no longer do, or can only do with greater difficulty.

Again, I was very fortunate to have support people during this time. Since I have been home, my husband has encouraged me to do as much as I can for myself and has helped with those things I am unable to do on my own. My daughter has been a wonderful help with issues relating to fashion, hair style, and home organization. Her husband, who loves handy work, helped fix up the bathroom and kitchen to be more accessible.

Many people from the synagogue visited, brought food and books, and even helped clean up our yard after the hailstorm last spring. People from work were most understanding and filled in my job while I was on medical leave. After working in Robbinsdale Schools for 30 years, I was fortunate to have good benefits to tide me over in hard times. So I would have to say that it was the community of people - family, friends, synagogue, and work connections that helped me maintain a positive attitude.

Nobody wants to have a disability, or to have a greater disability than before, but sometimes we don't have a choice and just have to accept the change, adapt as best as possible, and move on. The personal connection has certainly helped me do this, as I hope that I can help others.

The additional disability from my amputation did not change the essence of my being. Even without one leg, I feel like the same person as I was before, with the same feelings, interests, and basic personality. People with disabilities are people first, and human connections are essential. All disabilities are different, and no two people with disabilities are the same. Disabilities may even change over time within the same person.

Parshat Terumah describes the menorah in the sanctuary as unbroken, made out of a single piece of gold. This suggests a degree of perfection that may be possible for sacred objects but certainly not for human beings. The menorah shines light from its front side, just as people can shine radiance from the front of their faces. Perhaps it is what emanates from the menorah, or from the people we know, that is more important than the degree of perfection.

Rabbi Kaufman:

The golden cherubim who faced each other over the Ark in the portable sanctuary reminded our people to look with gentleness and kindness at each other, and not at each others' perfections or imperfections. Marlee and Paula have brought us this lesson today, and with it they bring sanctity into this sacred space. Shabbat shalom.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 2012 Jewish Disability Awareness Month Activities

Sunday, February 12  9–10:30 a.m.
To Walk in G-d’s Ways: Perspectives on Illness, Loss & Healing—Advanced Directives & Ethical Wills
Darchei Noam, 5224 Minnetonka Blvd Minneapolis, MN 55416 | 612-920-3424
Rabbi Joseph Ozarowski will discuss advanced directives and ethical wills for those whose abilities become limited by age.

Wednesday, February 15  7–8 p.m.
Workshop Series for Parents and Caregivers Preparing for Guardianship
Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416
Workshop explains many decision-making choices available for people with disabilities.
Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 |

Friday, February 17  6:30 p.m.
JDAM Shabbat Services
Shir Tikvah, 5000 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55419 | 612-822-1440

Saturday, February 18  10 a.m.
Shabbat Morning Services
Sharei Chesed, 1712 Hopkins Crossroad, Minnetonka, MN 55305 | 763-545-8800
Shelly Christensen, Program Manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities will speak on her recent trip to Washington DC for JDAM Advocacy Day.
Jewish Disability Awareness Month — Minneapolis
Please contact the appropriate sponsoring organization for registration information,
details and/or if you require special accommodations in order to participate.

JDAM Community Events
Sunday, February 19  9 a.m. services, breakfast and program to follow
“Hope and Autism Spectrum Disorders”
Beth El Synagogue , 5224 W. 26th Street, St. Louis Park MN 55416 | 952-920-3512
Hevra breakfast special program—“
Hope & Autism Spectrum Disorders: Three People Share their Experience
Living with Autism.” Call for information.

 Nourishing Jewish life through the arts
Rimon: The MN Jewish Arts Council
Sunday, February 19  1–3 p.m.
Rimon Artist Salon: The Secret Life of Puppets: The Art of Rekindling the Kid in All of Us
Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis
Caring Connections participants will be in the audience for Rimon’s Artist Salon. Puppet artist Shari Aronson and storyteller Carla Vogel present the magic of puppetry and storytelling! Open to the public.
Contact: Rimon, 952-381-3449 |, or online at .

Special Study Sessions on Jewish Disability Awareness
Adath Jeshurun, 10500 Hillside Lane West, Minnetonka, MN 55305 | 952-545-2424
Monday, February 20  1:30–3 p.m. with the Etzion Study Group
Join leader Jim Sherman and the Etzion Study Group, which meets weekly on Mondays throughout the year, for this special JDAM-focused session.

Tuesday, February 21  12 noon with the Torah Study Group
Shelly Christensen will lead this special session with Adath Jeshurun’s Torah Study Group, which meets weekly on Tuesdays throughout the year.

Wednesday, February 22  7–8 p.m.
The Legal Process of Guardianship
Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416
An attorney will lead participants through necessary legal procedures for guardianship for people with disabilities.
Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 |

Friday, February 24  6 p.m. potluck dinner (RSVP required), 8 p.m. services
JDAM Shabbat Dinner and Services
Bet Shalom, 13613 Orchard Road, Minnetonka MN 55305 | 952-933-8525
Guest Speakers Linda Bialick and Jennifer Lewin of Jewish Housing and Programming (J-HAP) will be presenting: Building Community: Changing Lives: A Response to Housing for Jewish Adults with Disabilities. J-HAP empowers individuals with disabilities to live an enriching life where their Jewish identity continues to thrive. Learn about this critical issue for our Jewish community and how it impacts you. Sponsored by the Sisterhood and the Inclusion Committee.

Saturday, March 3
Adath Jeshurun, 10500 Hillside Lane West, Minnetonka, MN 55305 | 952-545-2424 9:30 a.m. Shabbat Morning Services
Rabbi Adam Ticher will give the D’var Torah, and members of the Inclusion Committee and people with disabilities will participate in the service. 10–11 a.m. Song and Spirit Service
Rabbi Sadoff will lead a service for kindergarten through 4th grade students and their families on disability awareness.

JDAM Community Events, continued:
Save the Date!
Jewish Family and Children’s
Service of Minneapolis
Save the Date: Tuesday, April 24  7–9 p.m.
Community-Wide Book Discussion of the 2012 JDAM Reads! selection, The Story of Beautiful Girl
Adath Jeshurun, 10500 Hillside Lane West, Minnetonka, MN 55305 | 952-545-2424
Join the Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities for a lively discussion of The Story of Beautiful Girl (out in paperback in February) by Rachel Simon. The dialogue will draw from the Jewish values based discussion guide available for download at
Free and open to the community.
Further details will be available soon. RSVPs required to or 952-542-4838

On-going Programming
Darkaynu Café Monthly on Tuesdays n 7–8 p.m. n $5.00 (no one turned away for inability to pay)
Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416
Darkaynu Café is a monthly program for Jewish young adults with special needs who socialize, listen and sing along to live Jewish music at the Sabes JCC.
Call 953-303-5276 for information. For the schedule through August 2012, visit

Kesher  Monthly on Tuesdays following Darkaynu Café
Kesher is a way to continue the fun following the Darkaynu Café and for February features art with Jeanne Aaron. Darkaynu partners with J-HAP (Jewish Housing & Programming) and Sabes JCC for the Kesher program.
Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 |
Sabes JCC (See each program for contact information.)

Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416 Support Group for Parents and Caregiver n Mondays, monthly, 6:30–8:30 p.m.
Contact: Parents’ Catalysts Leadership Group, | February 13 next meeting date.
Friendship Seminar for adults 18+  Tuesdays, monthly, 7–8 p.m.
Expand friendship circles, communication, conversation, problem-solving and decision making skills.
Contact: Anita Lewis, 952 381-3489 |

Tikun Olam  Tuesdays, monthly (Not when Friendship Seminars are held) 7–8:15 p.m., $5.00
Tikun Olam engages young adults in community service and social action on a monthly basis. Projects are at the Sabes JCC and off-site.
Contact: Anita Lewis, 952 381-3489 |

Special Olympics Swimming Team: The Fire Flies n Thursdays at the JCC pool, 6–7 p.m.
Contact: Hannah Carney, | 763 226-0139

Non-Competitive Basketball Thursdays 5:30–7 p.m.
Adults 18+ in collaboration with Reach for Resources. Session continues into March.

Caring Connections
Monthly Caring Connections offers community-based programs for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program integrates participants into events at synagogues and in the community, enriching Jewish experiences for all. Caring Connections is a partnership of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, Sabes JCC and St. Paul JCC. To join the Caring Connections mailing list, contact Shelly Christensen at The Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities is a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and is funded by the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Toodie and Frank Trestman Special Needs and Collaborative Education Endowment Fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.
Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis

Disability Awareness Training for JDAM Adath USY USYer will screen and discuss the award-winning HBO film Temple Grandin.

CHAI SPEED! Programming includes: Building Compassion: How to Teach Your Children to Understand and Accept Differences with Jeannie Gilfix and Roz Ettedgui. 18 minutes of fun and learning, for parents 

PACER Puppet Show, “Count Me In” Two performances will be offered, one for B’Yachad students (K–2) and their parents and another for preschoolers.

Saturday Morning Program (SMP) on Jane Strauss’ new book, A Part or Apart
Local photographer Jane Strauss, part of 2011 JDAM with an exhibition entitled “A Part or Apart,” has released a book under the same name. SMP will discuss Strauss’ book and photography exhibition, which featured images of Jews with disabilities actively participating in the Twin Cities Jewish community.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis
Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis n Staff Screening of Temple Grandin
This screening is part of an annual JDAM Film Series at JFCS. Temple Grandin is a film about the internationally known speaker on autism. Discussion will follow.

Temple Israel n Religious School Disability Awareness Focus in February
Ninth grade retreat focus is B’tzelem Elohim—Created in the Divine Image. Kindergarten and first graders will participate in a special Disability Awareness curriculum.

Please Contact Shelly Christensen to learn more about starting your own Disability
Awareness Training or JDAM Film Series at or 952-542-4838.

SHA’ARIM Youth Darkaynu and Adult Darkaynu.
For information on Youth Darkaynu, Adult Darkaynu and Friends ‘N Fun call 953-303-5276
The Sha’arim Darkaynu program provides Jewish children and adults with disabilities a meaningful Jewish education that meets each individual’s particular way of learning.

Youth Darkaynu K–12  Sunday mornings
Classes meet at the Sabes JCC. Students spend one hour in Judaic Studies and one hour engaging in social/recreational activities.

Adult Darkaynu, 18 and older  Wednesday evenings
Classes meet at the Sabes JCC. Curriculum focuses on weekly Torah portions, holidays, mitzvot and rituals.Participants explore their Jewish identity while deepening their connection to the Jewish community. Friends ‘N Fun n For youth and for young adults by invitation/RSVP only.
Participants with special needs are paired with a trained volunteer for guided social interaction and shared experiences. Teen and college age and above volunteers are welcome. Interested volunteers call 953-303-5276 to speak with the program coordinator.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Here is a link to a good article by Rabbi David Sapperstein. Enjoy.  The events for the panel discussion at Orthodox synagogue this weekend have been postponed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2011

I admit I have been lacking here due to surgeries, a lost job, and no motivation to continue the blog for a year. It is time to start again.  Here is a listing of all calendar events for the Twin Cities during the month of February.

January 13–February 28 n For gallery hours visit
A Part or Apart? Disability and Inclusion in the Jewish Community
Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

This exhibit will feature documentary photographs by local artist Jane Strauss, who combines black and white imagery and words with the primary goal of encouraging discussion of disability inclusion in the Jewish community.

Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 or

Jewish Family and Children’sService of Minneapolis
Thursday, February 3  6:15–7:45 p.m.
A Part or Apart? Artist and Subject Panel Discussion
Walker Library, 2800 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis MN

A slideshow of exhibit images and a panel discussion of inclusion issues and experiences featuring the artist and participants in the photographic project. Sponsored by Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. Slides will be briefly described for people with vision impairments.

Contact: Shelly Christensen, 952-542-4838 or

Saturday, February 5
Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 10500 Hillside Ln W, Minnetonka 55305

10:30 a.m. Informal discussion about Parenting for Maximum Inclusion: The Blessings and Challenges. Leader: Shelly Christensen. Location: Adath Library

11:30 a.m. D’var Torah on the topic of Gratitude and Inclusion. Darshanit: Rabbi Lilly Kaufman. Location: Main Sanctuary

Contact: Rabbi Lilly Kaufman, 952-545-8694 or

Mondays, February 7–March 7 (5 weeks) n 7–8 p.m. Member rate, $80; Non-member, $104

Upstream Arts and Social Skills, for Adults 18+
Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

Upstream Arts, a program for people with disabilities, and the Sabes JCC invite you to spend time creating with your peers in an environment where you can rehearse real-life scenarios and push your creative boundaries. We will use the arts to explore how we can express ourselves socially and how we can communicate through movement, dance, poetry, theater and the visual arts.

Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 or

Saturday, February 12 11:15 a.m.
D’var Torah—Behind the Robes
Darchei Noam, 5224 Minnetonka Blvd, Minneapolis 55416

Did we recognize the Kohanim by what they wore, or for who they were? Today, when we meet a fellow community member with a disability, do we see the person or the disability? Bob Kusnetz will investigate what Parshat Tetzaveh teaches us about seeing the whole person, behind the facade.

Contact: 612-920-3424

Tuesday, February 15  7–8 p.m. n $5/person No one is turned away for inability to pay
Darkaynu Café—Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

Darkaynu Café is a monthly program geared toward young Jewish adults with special needs who socialize, listen and sing along to live Jewish music from tefillah, popular Hebrew songs, and Jewish camp songs. Participants learn and stay connected to one another and to their Jewish heritage through song and social interaction. Sponsored by Sha’arim and the Sabes JCC.

Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 or

Jewish Disability Awareness Month Twin Cities Events
Please contact the appropriate organization for registration information and details.

Friday, February 18 1–2 p.m.
Friday Afternoon Music with Chris Savitt
Main Lobby, Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

Chris is an extraordinary young man who has embraced his gift of providing joy through music. Although Chris may have many challenges in life (he is legally blind and is diagnosed with autism), he has a drive and a desire to give back to his community.

Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 or

Friday, February 18 6:30 p.m.
Dinner, Services and Program
Shir Tikvah, 5000 Girard Ave S, Minneapolis 55419

Mark Schwartz will speak on ways for the congregation to welcome members of the deaf/hard of hearing community beyond providing just ASL. The service and program will have ASL interpretation. Following the short service there will be a potluck supper and a panel discussion.
RSVP requested for those requiring ASL interpretation,

Contact: 612-822-1440

Friday, February 18  6 p.m.

Nefesh Shabbat Dinner and Community Services
Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Ave S, Minneapolis 55405

Join Temple Israel for dinner and services. The community group for adults with developmental disabilities, Caring Connections, will be joining the Shabbat celebration.

Contact: Trish Thelen, 612-374-0323 or

Friday, February 18—Darchei Noam Inclusion Weekend, Day 1
Darchei Noam, 5224 Minnetonka Blvd, Minneapolis 55416

11:45 a.m.–1 p.m. Lunch ‘n Learn at Tel Aviv Café with Rabbi Ozarowski, Jewish Healing Network of Chicago Chaplain, Textual Sources of Disabilities and Inclusion

Rabbi Ozarowski will begin Darchei Noam’s Inclusion Shabbat by examining Biblical and other textual sources of the principles of inclusion, helping others, and respecting people for who they are — all fundamental Jewish values.

6:30 p.m.  Darchei Noam Communal Shabbat Dinner (reservations required)
7:30 p.m. n Panel Discussion, Building an Inclusive Community

Rabbi Ozarowski, Marlee Kivens and Paula Fox will discuss disability and inclusion in communal settings. What can a congregation do to ensure that all members feel that they belong? Following presentations, the panel will pose questions for open discussion.

Saturday, February 19—Darchei Noam Inclusion Weekend, Day 2
11:15 a.m. n Dvar Torah, Key Lessons from Ki Tisa

Parshat Ki Tisa’s main themes are the census, materials for the mishkan (tabernacle), and the Golden Calf.
In the census, everyone—rich, poor, young, old, male, female—was valued equally. Rabbi Ozarowski will discuss what Ki Tisa teaches about inclusion today.

5:30 p.m. Seudah Shelishit, Rabbi Ozarowski’s Class, Are You Being Served?

While a congregation strives to be inclusive, what can individuals do, to help others? A big part of doing the right thing is knowing what to do, by understanding what people need and want—and what they don’t!

Sunday, February 20—Darchei Noam Inclusion Weekend, Day 3

9 a.m. Rabbi Ozarowski’s Class, From Longing to Belonging

The goal of building an inclusive community is to create an environment where all community members feel they belong and can participate to the extent of their abilities and desires. How far have we come? Are we there? Are we on the right track? What more can we do?

Contact: 612-920-3424

Tuesday, February 22  7–8:30 p.m. n Cost, $5
Tikkun Olam, for Adults 18+
Main Lobby, Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

The Tikkun Olam program meets monthly and focuses on community service and social action. Each month, young adults — with and without disabilities — will have the opportunity to make a difference in and give back to their community, alongside their peers. In February we will focus on feeding people who are hungry.

Contact: Anita Lewis, 952-381-3489 or

Friday, February 25  6 p.m. Potluck Dinner n 8 p.m. Services
Sisterhood Inclusion Shabbat Congregational Dinner
Bet Shalom, 13613 Orchard Rd, Minnetonka 55305

Sisterhood and the Inclusion Committee join together to host a potluck Shabbat dinner. They will provide the main course. The focus will be on creating an inclusive environment. Members of Sisterhood and members with disabilities will be participating in services, including sharing personal poems and inspirational readings.

Contact: 952-933-8525

Saturday February 26  9 a.m.
Services, Learning Disabilities and Styles
B’nai Emet, 3115 Ottawa Ave S, St. Louis Park 55416

This Shabbat service will explore learning disabilities and use different learning styles during the service.
Shelly Christensen will help us understand different learning styles and will also talk to us about inclusion.

Contact: 952-927-7309

Sunday February 27 Curtain 6:30 p.m. Free and open to the community
Community Film Event—Wretches & Jabberers
Dolly and Edward Fiterman Theater, Sabes JCC, 4330 Cedar Lake Rd S, Minneapolis 55416

Two men with autism—an accomplished artist and an activist—embark on a global quest to change attitudes about autism and intelligence. Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland, dissecting, challenging and reshaping public conceptions along the way. Through the film, we find that they are seeking the same things all of us do—spiritual understanding, respect for intelligence, a purpose in life and friendship.

RSVPs are recommended. Please include your name and number of guests when contacting Shelly Christensen at 952-542-4838 or

Individuals requiring additional services to participate should contact Anita Lewis at 952-381-3489

Celebrating Beth El’s Accessibility
Beth El Synagogue, 5224 W 26th St, St. Louis Park 55416

After years in the planning, Beth El Synagogue is completing building renovations. By including an elevator and ramps as centerpieces of the design, Beth El has made accessibility a top priority. Look for a special celebration dedicating our new, accessible facility.

Contact: Rabbi Alexander Davis, 952-920-3512

If you require special accommodations in order to participate in these programs, please contact the sponsoring organization to make your request.

The Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities is a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis and is funded by the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Toodie and Frank Trestman Special Needs and Collaborative Education Endowment Fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.Jewish Family and Children’sService of Minneapolis

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Spina Bifida Adult Group Starting

I know this isn't "Jewish" but it is disability related.  I met with a few adults with Spina Bifida today and we decided to form a group which will hold monthly meetings.  We decided on the 2nd Saturday of every month from 1-3pm.  If you are interested in this please contact me.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month Twin Cities Events

Jewish Disability Awareness Month Twin Cities Events
Please contact the appropriate organization for registration information and details.

January 30, 2010 n 7p.m.
Darchei Noam
Tu B’Shevat Seder at 7 p.m. with Caring Connections participants.
Celebrate the New Year of the Trees, and see how including all of the diversity of species makes us whole. 612-920-3424

January 30, 2010
USY Emtza Regional Convention
Adath Jeshurun will feature a workshop on inclusion of people with disabilities.
For registered USY participants.

January 31, 2010 n 3-5:30 p.m. FREE and open to the community
“Autistic License” screening at Sabes JCC auditorium
Community-Wide Kick-Off Event for Jewish Disability Awareness Month
The film will be followed by a conversation with playwright Stacey-Dinner Levi.
RSVPs are strongly recommended at or 952-542-4838.
Leave your name and number of guests. Individuals requiring additional services to participate in this event should contact Anita Lewis, Inclusion Director at 952-381-3489.

February 6, 2010 n 10 a.m.
B’nai Emet Inclusion Shabbat
Guest speaker and member Gwyn Leder will speak about “How Gwyn Found Herself” after discovering her brain injury. 952-927-7309

February 13, 2010
Adath Jeshurun
Adath Sampler: “Social Justice, Judaism and Disability” session will be offered. 952-545-2424

February 19, 2010 n 11 a.m.
Darchei Noam
Special inclusion dvar Torah on parshat Terumah. The building of the mishkan in the desert required gifts and efforts of all of B’nai Yisrael, but each according to his or her individual abilities and means. See how the building of the mishkan thousands of years ago is a model for an inclusive community today.

February 20, 2010 n 6 p.m.
Temple Israel
Author Jesse Saperstein. Jesse’s memoir Atypical: Life with Aspergers will be published in April. Jesse will speak at the Friday night service. To request accommodations, contact Trish Thelen at 612-374-0323 or

February 23
Community-wide Ability Awareness Training for organizational leaders
The Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, ADA Minnesota and the Minnesota State Council on Disability will address legal aspects of employment and access, disability awareness, practical strategies and resources to assess your building’s access points and the opportunity to address specific access issues with experts in the field. Contact Shelly Christensen at 952-542-4838.

February 26, 2010
Bet Shalom Inclusion Shabbat
The Inclusion Committee will participate in services and the d’var Torah will celebrate inclusion of people with disabilities. 952-933-8525

February 27, 2010 n 10 a.m.
Adath Jeshurun
Shabbat morning service d’var Torah on inclusion of people with disabilities. 952.545.2424

Sunday, February 28 n 3 p.m. FREE and open to the Community
St. Paul JCC
“A Friend Indeed – The Bill Sackter Story” – Inspiring real-life documentary about hope, compassion, and the power of friendship.

If you require special accommodations in order to participate in these programs,please contact the sponsoring organization to make your request.