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Opening Gates of Torah to Those With Special Needs

April 15, 2010 - Lynn B. Edelman, Jewish Federation Feature

Dr. Dan Gottlieb
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education Jewish Outreach Partnership share a common goal: to make area synagogues, schools, camps and other communal facilities fully inclusive to people with special needs. As such, on Sunday, May 16, from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, these two groups will strive to "Open the Gates of Torah" to all through a comprehensive conference keynoted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb.

Gottlieb, host of "Voices in the Family" -- a popular call-in, mental-health themed radio show that airs on WHYY-FM -- is personally familiar with the barriers to independence and inclusion faced by those with special needs. The psychologist and family therapist was nearly killed in an automobile accident in 1979 that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

He has documented his personal struggles with loss, depression, divorce, death, and the redemptive power of love and devotion to family and career in four books, as well as in a popular newspaper column titled "Inside Out," which ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Deborah Gettes, consultant for special needs with ACAJE/ JOP, said that the conference -- which has the full title of "Opening the Gates of Torah: Including People Who Have Special Needs in the Jewish Community" -- represents the "fruits of the labors" of 12 community groups that comprise the Special Needs Consortium.

'Something to Gain, Learn'

"We have worked closely with Federation Early Learning Services, JCHAI, JEVS Human Services, Jewish Family and Children's Services, Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, OROT, Reconstructionist Rabbinic College, the Friendship Circle (a project of Lubavitch House), the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Union of Reform Judaism, for more than a year to put this program together," explained Gettes, adding that "we have designed a broad range of programs and workshops of interest to families, rabbis, educators, synagogue administrators and religious-school directors -- everybody has something to gain and learn by attending."

Gettes said that she is grateful to Congregation Beth Or for hosting the conference in its wheelchair-accessible, elevator-equipped building.

Clergy from several Philadelphia-area congregations intend to share strategies that they have successfully implemented to welcome and support persons with disabilities and their families.

Rabbi Jay Stein of Har Zion Temple, who is also the president of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia, will present the white paper on providing a Jewish education for children with special needs that was unanimously passed by the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

Several workshops will also address the identification of developmental delays, in addition to differences in determining how to identify the emotional and academic "red flags" that may indicate that a child needs an evaluation.

Early-childhood educators can gain further insight on integrating children with learning and social differences into their preschool classrooms.

Educators at Jewish day schools can learn how to accommodate students with Individual Education Plans, or IEPs. They can also benefit from a conference program on setting expectations in the classroom that are realistic and achievable for both student and teacher.

Gettes emphasized that the conference will also be relevant for families of young adults who have special needs. As part of the program, two workshops -- "Legal Issues and Estate Planning" and "Where Do I Live Once I Am 21?" -- will offer advice on formulating care plans for the future.

The cost of the program is $18 and includes dinner, the keynote address and participation in two workshop sessions.

The full conference program is available online at: www.acaje.org.

To learn more, call Deborah Gettes at 215-635-8940, Ext. 1231, or e-mail: dgettes@acaje.org.



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