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Jewish Abilities Alliance

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.

Being a Self-Advoate for Autism

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

Eren Niederhoffer is an Atlanta young professional with skills in business administration and non-software analytics. He is also a self-advocate for people with autism and is leading and growing an organization called Autistic Self Advocacy Atlanta (ASAA) which offers social experiences for people on the spectrum. Eren’s activism includes intentionally calling himself “autistic,” rather than “a person with autism.” Below he shares why he chooses using this language, instead of people-first language.

Have you noticed that a lot of people say they’re Jewish when it comes to politics, but won’t go into detail about how they practice Judaism? They simply say they come from a Jewish family and seem unwilling to express pride in their roots or their culture.

I see it as fear. That’s why when a person says, “I’m autistic,” it feels to me like instead of running from who they are, or dismissing that part of who they are, they’re acknowledging that it is part of them. They’re acknowledging the need to accept and live with the autistic part of them rather casting it aside. Just as Judaism is a part of who I am, when I say, “I am autistic,” I am saying, “this is who I am.”

Right now, my organization Autistic Self Advocacy Atlanta (ASAA) is providing lunch and dinner socials so that many autistics can meet and make friends. I am mentoring other autistics to become event hosts and leaders and also trying to help them realize they don’t have to hide who they are. Autistics can be open about themselves and to others around them. We should not hide that we are Jews either. Why would we be ashamed of being Jewish? Should some of us be shamed for being autistic? The logic is the same! This is why building an autistic community can give us that sense of confirmation to be true to ourselves.

Learn more about ASAA, self-advocacy, and MENTRA.

Organ Transplant Discrimination: Gracie’s Law

By CARING, Jewish Abilities Alliance, People in Need

Our Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) team and other community advocates were down at GA State Capitol last week to support Gracie’s Law (HB 842), organized by Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. The law seeks to end organ transplant discrimination against people with a diagnosed developmental disability, based on many misconceptions about their quality of life and ability to recover from a transplant. It’s named for Gracie Nobles, who was born in March 2019 with Down syndrome. Gracie spent 17 days in neonatal intensive care, then a month later, she showed signs of congestive heart failure and developed serious kidney problems.

At 3-months-old, Gracie underwent surgery to successfully repair a hole in her heart. But, if Gracie had required a heart transplant, she could have been denied due to her diagnosis. Georgia doesn’t have discrimination prevention laws to protect people with disabilities and ensure equal access to organ transplants. Even states with discrimination laws often leave people and children with disabilities off organ transplant lists. We’ll keep you posted on the bill’s progress! Learn how to advocate with JAA for Gracie’s Law here.