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Atlanta Innovates Again: World’s First Inclusive Melton Program

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

The Florence Melton School is the largest adult Jewish learning program in the world. Atlanta’s Melton program, part of the Lisa F. Brill Institute for Jewish Learning at the MJCCA, has one of the largest enrollments in North America. So, leave it to Atlanta to pioneer the world’s first inclusive Melton class that brings adults with and without disabilities together to learn virtually.

The unique, inclusive, Melton curriculum, called Members of the Tribe (MOT) is in its second semester with an enrollment of 17 students. It has been hailed as a ground-breaking effort to break barriers in adult education. Discussions are underway with the Florence Melton School Institute at Hebrew University about replicating the local Atlanta adaptation of the curriculum worldwide.

“We would never have had this class without guidance and support from the Jewish Abilities Alliance of Atlanta (JAA),” said Talya Gorsetman, who runs adult learning at the MJCCA. “JAA introduced us to Jay Kessler who helped it. Even more crucially, JAA has guided us about the nuances of inclusive language and other best practices when working with people of diverse abilities. Our teachers have also been wonderful, and we are so proud that this curriculum is going global.”

As for Jay Kessler, this longtime Jewish advocate in Atlanta for people with disabilities is both a cheerleader and recruiter who attends every class. “When Talya Gorsetman first told me about the class, I knew it had the unique potential to connect people with disabilities to people without disabilities,” Kessler said. “Every time I attend class, I am inspired. Devorah Lowenstein, this semester’s teacher asked the class, ‘what’s precious to you?’ A student named Rachel Gray, who has Down syndrome said, ‘My soul is precious to me, because my soul teaches me how to talk to God.’  “The Rebbe himself couldn’t have said it better.”

JAA Wins Grants & Makes Grants

By Jewish Abilities Alliance

The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) is the proud recipient of a $15,000 grant from the Holly Lane Foundation. The funding will support JAA’s work to amplify inclusion for people with disabilities and will prioritize the implementation of recommendations from its recent Matan Community Study. The study was conducted in 2020 and included extensive fact-finding from caregivers, self-advocates, and other community disability leaders.  

Annie Garrett, JAA Manager said, “We’re working to align the community with a shared and singular vision of disability inclusion. Part of our work is supporting local inclusion efforts through microgrants. In a conventional year, we award about $15,000 in microgrants, but because of the pandemic we rolled funding over and were able to grant out more than $19,000 to advance inclusion in 2021.”  

Temple Beth David – Sensory Learning Enhancement Through Art & Music 

Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta – Community Meetings Closed Captioning 

Limmud Atlanta – ASL Interpreting Services for LimmudFest 

MJCCA Preschool – Sensory Equipment for the Classroom 

Ahavath Achim Synagogue – Flexible Seating 

Creating Connected Communities – Supporting Social-Emotional Needs of CCC Buddies 

Hebrew Order of David – Accessible Shuttle Services for Kosher BBQ Festival 

Congregation B’nai Torah – Sensory Tools of Inclusion 

Temple Sinai – Shalom Station 

Temple Emanu-El – Project ICE 

A New Blueprint for Inclusion in Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta with an organization called MatanMatan works with Jewish professionals, communities, and families to create and sustain inclusive Jewish settings for people with disabilitiesThe study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts and to re-evaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support.  

Then came COVID-19. As the pandemic began to unfold, the study took on even more importance. It was clear that individuals with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing.  

Thanks to the consulting team from Matan, wnow have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. Here are some of the ways how we hope to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:   

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals  
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability  
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities  
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability  

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life. 

Doing the Work to Close the Inclusion Gap or A Framework for an Inclusive Jewish Atlanta

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need, PHILANTHROPY

Community Study on Disability Inclusion 

Annie Garrett, Jewish Abilities Alliance Manager 

In early 2020, the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) engaged in a community study of disability inclusion in Jewish Atlanta. The study was an opportunity to reflect on our community’s past efforts with disability inclusion and to reevaluate needs and areas for deeper focus and support. Shortly after we embarked on this work, the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold. As we started to understand the impact of the pandemic, this study took on even more importance. Individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, facing increased social isolation, cuts in crucial services, and increased vulnerability to their health and wellbeing. This study has shed light on our community’s most current and pressing needs and will provide crucial data and direction to continue lifting disability inclusion as a priority across all aspects of Jewish life.  

JAA worked closely with a consulting team from Matan, spending many months interviewing Jewish communal professionals, lay-leaders, self-advocates, caregivers, and family members. As a result, we have identified a framework that promotes and enhances a vision of a Jewish Atlanta that is fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. This framework identifies several areas of inclusion work over the next several years to close the gap between what currently exists and what the community aims to accomplish:  

  • Establishing and supporting coordinated communal inclusion efforts and unified community goals 
  • Prioritizing funding for inclusion across the lifespan and ensuring sustainability 
  • Creating a shared communal vision of acceptance and support for individuals of all abilities 
  • Training for all community professionals and lay leaders to create an even landscape of inclusion knowledge and capability 

We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this study and our road map for the next several years as we deepen our work alongside our community partners, in making Jewish Atlanta a place where people of all abilities are welcomed, included, and embraced in all aspects of Jewish life. 

“Makers” Compete to Solve Human Problems

By COMMUNITY, INNOVATION, Jewish Abilities Alliance

“Makers” Compete to Solve Human Problems
Georgia Tech’s Tikkun Olam Makers, known as TOM:GT, was the winning changemaker in Federation Innovation’s recent Propel Pitch competition. TOM is a worldwide movement that marshals the talents of student problem solversto address the needs of people with disabilities, known as “Need Knowers. TOM:GT achieves its mission through an annual makeathon. Structured similarly to a hackathon, the makeathon pairs student teams with need-knowers to create workable prototypes. Last weekend, in real time, six TOM maker teams at Georgia Tech showcased their solutions before a panel of judges, many of whom work in the disabilities space, which rated their projects and ranked the teams’ outputs. 

Judges hailed two teams as “winners” — Team 2, which created a way to manage and “reel in” oxygen hoses for people with COPD and other respiratory conditions; and Team 4, which created adaptive and supportive seating for people who want to use zip lines at Camp Twin Lakes, a camp for children facing serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges. 

Here are the challenges the six TOM teams were given, and what they created to meet a range of realworld problems. 

  • Team 1: Notification Alert System:
    “Mom” is an older adult woman who is losing her hearing. She owns an iPhone. Occasionally, she receives texts, messages, alerts, and other notifications on her phone. Mom enjoys watching TV. She also enjoys working in her garden.
    The Challenge: The challenge is that when Mom listens to the TV, she does not hear the alerts on her iPhone because the volume of the TV obstructs the audio alert from the iPhone. This frustrates her because it could be a family member or friend with some timely information. She needs another method to let her know that the alert has occurred.
  • Team 2: Oxygen Concentrator Reel System | See what this winning team made on YouTube!
    “Mom” is an older adult woman who has emphysema due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The condition requires that she have oxygen delivered to her nose for every breath. In her small home, she has an oxygen concentrator which generates the oxygen, and she wears a nasal cannula to deliver that oxygen into her lungs. Between the cannula and the concentrator is a flexible hose which enables her to move about the house freely. The tubing is 50’ in length and made of a clear, flexible PVC material. Mom walks through the house with the tube dragging behind her. The Challenge: Because of its length, the hose can become a hazard. It bunches up. It can become entangled on itself. It can catch or get wrapped around furniture. As Mom walks around the house, she has to cross over the hose or push it out of the way. Everyone who is in the house is always aware of the hose’s location and tries to avoid stepping on it.
  • Team 3: Zip Line Support System | See what this winning team made on YouTube!
    The Challenge: While at Camp Twin Lakes, one of the campers’ activities is a zip line. When the campers are using the zip line, it is important that the harness system keeps them upright and provides the necessary back, neck, and head support. Current seatback inserts do not provide all of the needed supports, meaning some campers are unable to participate in and enjoy the zip line.
  • Team 4: Canoe Supports
    The Challenge: Oftentimes, it is difficult to maintain balance when getting in and out of a canoe. The tendency of a canoe to tip over makes it dangerous for some campers to use. However, because the added support would create a heavier system and therefore a harder to move system, it is important that the support structure be removable for campers that do not require it.
  • Team 5: Letter Tracing Transcribing System
    Kyle hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He is 24 years old and grew up attending Temple Sinai and playing sports. Kyle has been an active member of the Jewish community his whole life. Kyle currently volunteers as a beekeeper and a honey salesman for a program called Hives for Honey. Prior to beekeeping, Kyle worked at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in the fitness center. Kyle is also a disability advocate and speaker. The ChallengeDue to Kyle’s dysgraphia, he has difficulty writing, making it hard to fill out forms that ask for information in multiple places (such as doctors’ offices, building sign-ins). Additionally, Kyle learns better by singing or visualizing something versus just hearing it. A device that provided a way to transcribe and/or trace words would help individuals like Kyle when filling out forms or other documents. 

Rebecca Birch: An emerging leader for inclusion

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

Rebecca Birch, Assistant Tikvah Support Director at Camp Ramah Darom, has been selected as this year’s Robyn Berger Emerging Leader. The presentation of this award brings to a close Jewish Abilities Alliance’s month-long celebration of the Power of Inclusion, honoring 21 individuals who made an impact on inclusion in 2020. Ramah Darom’s Tikvah program supports campers with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, communication disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and other disabilities. Audra Kaplan, who directs the program says, “Our approach is that every counselor is an inclusion counselor, and Becky has made sure that each counselor felt equipped to support each of their campers. At camp, she designed and ran age-appropriate activities for each age group around topics of inclusion and acceptance.”

Becky’s decision to work professionally in this field is the direct result of her years at camp. At Ramah Darom she guided the expansion of support for campers in typical bunks and those who require a higher level of support. In summer 2019, Becky led the staff inclusion training and then in summer 2020, led the full staff training in preparation for Kayits Babayit (Summer at Home), a virtual program. “Becky has been an integral part of not only developing our model of inclusion support, but also in helping to transform our community,” Audra Kaplan adds. “Camp Ramah Darom is proud to recognize her as a true example of the power of inclusion!”

Jared Jay has something to say

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

Jared Jay is a nonverbal young man with autism, but his message is loud and clear when he uses his letter board. We asked Jared to share his thoughts for our Atlanta community during Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion month (JDAIM).

I am autistic. I am non-speaking but not non-thinking. I communicate by spelling on a letterboard. I am silent, but I am also not.

Belief is my family cornerstone. We are Jewish and I like Judaism because it gives me hope I can survive my challenges. A Jew is a survivor and we fight in the face of fear. Facing fear is what we do. Can I tell you why? In our past others have tried to silence us but they never prevail. History has tried to erase us but we are chosen to show the world how truth in the face of darkness always shines as a light. For me, my darkness is my silence and the way society acts about my disability. But my truth, my light, are my words. Sit in my silence and hear me speak.

In today’s world, people are afraid to silence their minds and because of that, fear overpowers them when they have an encounter with a silent person. As a silent Jew, I am here to illuminate a new way of being, seeing and living.

Respect. That’s my innermost wish for the world. I am feeling that with respect the world would care more about minorities. I hope that life will become more inclusive for others like me and not like me. I grieve for those who will stay silent without ever having the opportunity to express themselves. I am hopeful for the families who saw for the first time that the doctors who said we are not connected were dangerously wrong.

I am proud that I am one of the revolutionaries.

JAA Helps Change Attitudes

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

In the Talmud, Eruvin 54b, states, “Rabbi Perida had a certain student whom he would have to teach four hundred times, and only then would he learn the material, as he was incapable of understanding it otherwise.” One day this student was particularly distracted, and Rabbi Perida said, “Pay attention this time and I will teach you and know that I will not leave until you have fully mastered the lesson.” He taught him again an additional four hundred times. 

Even in the times of the Talmud, meeting the needs of individuals with diverse abilities was not a new idea. But what Rabbi Perida did for his students was newRabbi Perida prioritized relationship-building. He was trying to learn his students’ learning styles to better understand what impacted their learning. Although this piece of Talmud does not explain what this student’s learning style was, it demonstrates that Rabbi Perida took the time and energy to create a norm of patience with this student’s learning. 

Much like Rabbi Perida, Jewish educators have the daunting role of determining what may be impacting each student’s learning — whether physical, social-emotional, or other. Now, with the unprecedented impacts of a pandemic and virtual engagement, it is more important than ever for educators to understand the intricacies of each student’s learning. 

According to a 2015 national survey about inclusion challenges and solutions conducted by Erin Barton and Barbara Smith, an educator’s attitude is often one the greatest roadblocks to creating an inclusive culture and space. One of the most impactful strategies of overcoming attitudinal barriers is through continuing education and training.  

The Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) provides exactly this: training in disability sensitivity and awareness, educational support and resources, and assistance in developing strategies to support students of all abilities. These trainings are available to all Atlanta Jewish organizations at no cost and are appropriate for all ages. This year JAA is continuing to grow our community trainings by adapting curriculum to reflect our new virtual learning reality. We are able to offer Bright from the Start certified trainings, which allow preschool teachers to receive state-required continuing education credits. And we have provided trainings to larger, more diverse audiences in Jewish Atlanta than ever before. 

I am so proud to be part of a community that, even during a pandemic, understands the importance of inclusive teaching and seeks to create a more inclusive Jewish Atlanta.   

If your synagogue, school, or Jewish organization would like to learn more about our sensitivity and awareness trainings, educational resources, or support in inclusive best practices, please contact Lisa Houben, Community Training and Inclusion Coordinator. 

Melton for All! New Class for Adults with Diverse Learning Needs

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

The MJCCA’s Lisa F. Brill Institute for Jewish Learning is extremely proud to have one of the largest Melton adult learning programs in the world! The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning is the largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network in the world, and now it is pioneering an inclusive class for Atlanta adults who have diverse learning needs.

“My passion for adult Jewish education extends to include all adults, so I was thrilled when Lisa Houben, Federation’s Community Training and Inclusion Coordinator at the Jewish Abilities Alliance, approached me to engage in this initiative. To my knowledge this has never been done with the Melton community before,” said Talya Gorsetman, Director of the Lisa F. Brill Institute for Jewish Learning. “We loved the idea of an inclusive and multi-sensory format that would embrace neurodiversity, so together with the Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA), we’ve created a six-session class that begins in November.”

The class, which is supported by the Glen Friedman Bnei Mitzvah fund and Jay and Judy Kessler, will be taught by Rabbi Steven Rau, RJE, Director of Lifelong Learning at The Temple. He is the author of Everyone is Welcome: Creating a Culture of Inclusion in Congregational Schools and has been a Melton faculty member for 10 years. For more information about the class please contact Talya Gorsetman, 678-812-4153.

How Friendship Circle Inspired Me

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

By Daniel Stern

I was still a freshman at The Weber School when my older sisters suggested it was time I took part in Tikkun Olam(repairing the world.) It was at this point that I decided to volunteer with Friendship Circle’s “Buddies at Home” program. I signed up and became a buddy to a young adult with special needs named Mike. Mike and I met nearly weekly, as our schedules permitted, and we had so much fun hanging out, playing sports together, going to the dog park, having lunch, and things like that. It was a great relationship.

By the time I was a sophomore, I began to think about creating a one-week summer day camp for people with disabilities modeled on Friendship Circle, where every camper has a “buddy.” I was really pumped to do it, but I did not have a plan set in stone. My Mom said, ‘Go for it, but, remember, this is your project, not mine.’ I went to the Sandy Springs Tennis Center and asked them if they’d donate a couple of tennis courts, and they said, OK. I was excited to launch what I was then calling “Serve it Up” Summer Camp, but pretty soon it dawned on me that I needed a little backup. I wanted it to be a free camp to encourage all who wanted to participate to attend. I knew I needed to raise money and I knew I needed my friends to help pull this off. I launched a Go-Fund-Me campaign online that raised over $1,000 for us to get started.

I worked with Rickelle New, the Director of Friendship Circle, and I created the tennis program and she created the arts and crafts program. We developed a flyer and reached out to all of the families that had participated in Friendship Circle activities. Recruiting my friends to become buddies for our campers was the next challenge, but eventually more than 20 of my friends signed up to volunteer. It was a great success to be outside playing tennis with our special friends. So, the following summer, I was excited to create another camp. We decided to move the camp indoors to the gym at Atlanta Jewish Academy, so those who did not want to be outside all day could also participate. That summer, we played many sports in addition to tennis and still included arts and crafts. Many of our campers with special needs even had two buddies! I learned that many people with disabilities have other health issues. They can’t take the heat and need the comfort of air conditioning.

I really thought I was doing this for kids with special needs. But, when the parents of these kids came up to me and told me how much they valued the camp, it felt so good. I realized that not only did the kids benefit, but their entire families benefited from what we had created. So did my volunteers. Now, as a freshman at Vanderbilt University, with the benefit of hindsight and a little maturity, I can see I was also doing it because of the values I learned in my family, at school, and through Friendship Circle. When you help others and build real relationships, you are doing the work of tikkun olam.