I posted earlier this month that February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Now that we’re a couple of weeks in, I’m going to come back around to that topic a bit.
You’ve been warned.
Kveller has been running a series of articles that connect into Jewish special needs issues, and has run articles that are quite sunny. One mother has reported that her autistic child is doing well in Jewish day school; another reports that her special-needs daughter had a blast at Ramah day camp in Nyack, NY.
There’s a text to these: we have access to services, and it’s great. Here’s the subtext: we’re Jews living in New York.
I grew up in an area with a large, developed Jewish community (South Florida). While things like kosher restaurants and markets were not in every corner of the world (geographically the area is a several-county sprawl), they were relatively easily available. There were large synagogues, small synagogues, JCCs with tons of resources, multiple Jewish day schools, etc.
Obviously, I don’t live there now. The Jewish community here is much, much smaller. There are really not many places where concentrated numbers of Jews live; most of the Jewish community that is engaged in Jewish life lives in an area that you can drive across in about ten minutes when the traffic is bad. There is no kosher butcher. There is one kosher restaurant–the snack area at the one JCC.
There is one Hebrew day school. There is one supplemental Hebrew school that handles the central part of Jewish education for the non-day school kids (kids go to their family synagogue for part of Sunday, and to the central Hebrew school on one weekday). Everyone’s child is above average, or not talked about. Or disciplined.
Camp? Here’s how Jewish camp went for us at the JCC: Secular Jew, Jr., couldn’t function without an aide. We were told in no uncertain terms that they really couldn’t spare anyone for that, even for Fall Break or Spring Break.
So, no Jewish camp.
School? The day school has no one–no one–with any real special needs training. Even kids who don’t have special needs diagnoses are marginalized if they’re just not smart enough (or so the stories go). So, what do you suppose would happen when, as has started over the last couple of weeks, Secular Jew, Jr., starts shouting “NO!,” apparently unprompted and apropos of nothing, to the tune of 125 incidences per day?
So, no Jewish day school.
Supplemental school? There’s no one with any real special needs training. The instructors are not professional, certified educators; they are people with Hebrew fluency. The director claimed extensive experience in special needs Jewish education; but after a special needs model Seder that appeared no different from any other model Seder I’ve ever attended, except that there were fewer people, it was pretty clear that experience and expertise aren’t the same thing.
So, no Jewish supplemental school.
My point: the Kveller articles are nice. But they aren’t what Jews outside of certain enclaves experience.
So, Kveller, if you want to talk about Jewish Disability Awareness Month, how about you talk about this?