Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

Eager to show how technology is opening doors for students learning Hebrew at Congregation Shaarey Zedek Religious School, special educator Edna Sable unzips a sleek silver leather case and opens her iPad. Booting up a program called PicCollage, she explains, “I have the Jewish Federation to thank for all their support, which includes the iPad right here in my hands.”

“Opening the Doors” for her students in partnership with Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education, Edna Sable is a special needs coordinator at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, in addition to her full-time job as a Hebrew teacher at Hillel Day School.

Edna, a native of Ashdod, Israel, spends long hours both as a full-time teacher at Hillel Hebrew Day School and as a part-time instructor at Shaarey Zedek, working with a wide diversity of students and their families in the community. Passionate and energetic in her work, with 27 years of experience in the field, she is one of 21 teachers with a Master in Special Education working in 26 community congregational and day schools with the support of  Federation’s Alliance for Jewish Education’s Opening the Doors Partnership Program.

“We work with children with so many individual needs, but I find that the iPad really opens eyes. It’s such a multi-sensory tool, providing interactive touch, sound, color and immediate feedback. The kids have grown up in a world of digital media, working on the iPad is second nature to them.”

From iPad to “I can”

Despite the late hour in the afternoon, the company of friends and the excitement of a Tu Bishvat Seder in progress in the lunch room, Ian Zerkel, age 11, was easily enticed from his seat at the table by an invitation to join Edna for a brief lesson using the iPad.  “It’s not too early to begin the study for your Bar Mitzvah,” Edna tells him. He agrees, and so they start with the words for the Torah blessing. Word for word, Ian reads, Edna follows and records. The lesson on the iPad meets with success of both student and teacher, as Ian’s mother, Emma, looks on. All are pleased.

Edna and Ian

Opening the Doors, Opening Eyes and Minds

In its 18th year, Opening the Doors Partnership Program continues to grow, now serving the needs of more than 950 students in the metro Detroit Jewish community. Describing Edna’s role on the faculty team at Shaarey Zedek, Director of Education and Youth, Rabbi Aaron Starr, notes firsthand the impact that the program makes. “Opening the Door provides grant money, training and guidance to bring a special educator (such as Edna) into our congregation to work individually with children with special needs, to get to know the students and their families personally, and to ensure that each child receives the appropriate attention necessary to succeed as full member of his or her class.”

A mission to change attitudes

Statistics show that about 50 million Americans have special needs ranging from learning disabilities to autism to physical challenges. While the American Disability Act, passed more than 20 years ago, lays out the goals to end discrimination in employment, to provide access to public buildings and transportation, and to assure the means for inclusion in public education – ramps to buildings and public policies don’t take the place of real engagement in the community.

Policies don’t change attitudes. People do.

With the goal to raise awareness and to navigate the journey of inclusion of all those with special needs in the community, February is earmarked as Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM). Now a national event in its fifth year, JDAM was founded by the Jewish Special Education Consortium and promoted by the Jewish Federations of North America and their communities to provide opportunities for learning and to recognize the need for inclusion for people of all abilities and talents.

Kicking off with a warm welcome and “A  Smile as Big as the Moon”

In celebration of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Federation’s Opening the Doors Program collaborates with partner agencies to spearhead the Detroit community’s call to action to participate in a series of special events, presentations, book discussions and programs for educators, parents, teens and health practitioners.

“Our challenge doesn’t begin and end with the month of February,” stated Ellen Maiseloff, Director of Special Education for Federation’s Alliance. “However, JDAM gives us an opportunity to bring our issues to light, increase understanding, and provide resources with the ultimate goal to inspire, educate and empower our community to recognize the potential and contributions of our kids. After all, our mission is to enable our children with special needs to participate in a Jewish education and to provide that web of support. ”

Save the Dates for JDAM Events

A Smile as Big as the Moon

A Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie Starring John Corbett with  special guests, Author Mike Kersjes and Facilitator Cheryl Chodun

Sunday, February 10, 2013 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 27375 Bell Road, Southfield; Registration: 12:30 p.m; Program 1:30 p.m; Movie 2:00 p.m; Dessert Reception

The true story of a special education teacher, his class and their inspiring  journey through U.S. Space Camp.  John Corbett plays Mike Kersjes who believes his students with special needs can do anything – even compete in the prestigious Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama.  The challenge: convincing everyone else that his class with disabilities, including Tourette’s syndrome, Down syndrome, dyslexia, eating disorders and a variety of emotional problems,  would benefit from the experience and succeed. Many of the students in the movie are played by young actors with special needs.

JDAM Book Discussions

Now I See the Moon: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle, by Elaine Hall

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:00 pm at the Jewish Federation Max. M. Fisher Building with Facilitator Rebecca Starr and Video Introduction by Elaine Hall

A story of a mother’s love, faith, resilience and the power of hope. Follow Elaine Hall’s enduring and enlightening journey with her adopted child from Russia, Neal, who has Non-Verbal Autism as she chronicles his development through his Bar Mitzvah. Elaine Hall received the Vision Award for the The Miracle Project, a theatre arts program for children with autism.

Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, by Brad Cohen

Tuesday, March 5, 2013,  at  7:00 p.m. at Jewish Family Service with facilitator: Ellen Yashinsky Chute

An inspirational story about Brad Cohen, who has Tourette Syndrome. Brad describes his humiliation and rejection of being ridiculed in his school and community. Brad’s determination and fiercely positive attitude help him conquer life’s challenges and reach his goals of becoming an award-winning teacher, assistant principal, husband, father and author.

Got question or a need to learn more?

There are more special  needs of those living in our community than hours in the day and dollars in our budget to answer the calls. But every positive action counts. So step up, share this article, tweet and read more, volunteer, make a new friend: support Opening the Doors.  For more information, call Ellen Maiseloff, Federation’s Associate Director of Special Education,  248-205-2533 or email