While I was encouraged by many people in the field of special education, Jewish education, and advocate world to start a blog of my experiences, I resisted their pleas. I nodded politely, thinking in my head, I couldn’t possibly have anything important enough to publish for the world to read. And yet, I find myself thinking “I wish others could see this” or “I wish someone else could appreciate that.” And so, here I am, blogging.
So what is “shiluv?” If you ask any Israeli what “shiluv” means, they will interlock their hands together a go “ehhhh, ze!” What they lack in words, they express with their hands; the seamless integration of different parts. When you look it up in the dictionary, it explodes with options: combining, joining, linking, connecting, interlacing, integrating, including. And yet, this is appropriate. It is very difficult to define, in words, especially one word, how people with and without disabilities come together as part of a community. It is a challenge, one in which I am constantly engaged.
I am a staff member on Ramah Seminar, a trip to Israel for teenagers who have attended a Ramah Camp program in the United States. The Ramah Camps are a branch of the Conservative Jewish Movement, providing a halachic, egalitarian, observant summer experience for Jewish children. I have worked at Camp Ramah New England for the past 7 summers as the “Inclusion Coordinator,” working to include children with physical, intellectual, and social disabilities with their typically developing peers. During the rest of the year, I am a Special Education teacher in Montgomery County, MD. This summer, I am accompanying a long-time camper with Cerebral Palsy to Israel as part of the Ramah Seminar Experience.
Now, anyone who has been to Israel knows, Israel is a phenomenal place; a country full of energy, spirit, kosher food, hiking, spirituality, war, and peace. But, Israel is not a place full of ramps, or an understanding of handicapped accessibility. Israelis are a tough breed, often called “sabras” because a cactus has a prickly, thorny outside, and sweet, softer interior. Creating a handicapped accessible society is not on their priority list. However, if you can get them talking, facilitate a meeting with someone with disabilities, they will want to help. They will feel obligated to include this person in their society. Unfortunately, Israel lacks a societal response to the challenge of people with disabilities. Individuals are joining together, and resources now are tenfold to what was available twenty years ago. Yet, there is still work to be done.
And so, I would like you to join in our journey. As we strive to create an inclusive summer experience for 251 teenagers traversing across the State of Israel a country that believes every Jew in the world has a right to return but sometimes forgets that not everyone can walk back.