Monday, September 7, 2015


At this age he couldn't eat, but he could feel included in Judaism all the same.
I had a meeting this morning to discuss inclusion of children with special needs within the synagogue community and children's groups this morning, with our wonderful new youth director Carmiya. She's preparing for the major Jewish fall holidays, when youth groups are full and prayer services are long. While I hadn't consciously prepared much thought (we had only decided late last night to have this brief meeting), as we talked I realized that most of what I was saying about inclusion both in generalities and specifics boiled down to one word.


Listen to the parents who come and tell you their child needs a one-on-one who is really aware of the potential for elopement. Listen to the parents' concerns about the suitability of activities for their child. Listen to the parents' explanations of negative dynamics between specific children. Few parents in real life in most places are seeing their children as special snowflakes. Most just want safety and happiness for their children.

Listen to the children when they come to you. If they report problems with adults who don't understand the limitations or problems the individual children face; if they report problems interacting with other children. Children don't usually come to adults with made-up concerns; if they report a problem, it's usually because they are experiencing a problem within their perception.

Listen to the children when they are among themselves. Be alert for bullying, for isolation, for negativity. At the same time, you may be lucky enough to merit observing a real miracle of children accepting each other no matter what limitations each has.

Inclusion can mean making sure the doors are open to those with physical difficulties yet closed to those who might endanger themselves by leaving without supervision. It can mean making prayer materials available in multiple media and leading prayer in different ways. Sometimes though, inclusion means opening our ears and our minds and thoughts. Just listen.

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