On Sunday, Oct. 31, Rabbi Daniel Grossman will pose a provocative question to teachers attending a conference sponsored by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s Commission on Jewish Education: Do our Hebrew schools and congregations really like Jews?
For Grossman, religious leader of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, liking Jews means including all Jews in all aspects of congregational life and education. His keynote talk to the educators will be “Images in Torah and Beyond: The Patriarchs and Torah in Conjunction with Disabilities.”
“If we don’t offer accessibility, we’ll never attract people with disabilities,” Grossman said in a phone interview with NJJN. “If you look at the biblical model, if a synagogue or school is not accessible to people with disabilities, then you don’t have a place where Moses could have read Torah because of his stutter, or where Isaac could have participated because of his blindness, or where Jacob could have made it up the steps to the bima.”
Featured in a PBS documentary on faith communities’ accommodating individuals with special needs, Grossman’s congregation holds services in sign language and offers large-print prayer books, hearing aid systems, and a ramp to the bima, where Torah scrolls are placed lower for people in wheelchairs.
Grossman will share his experiences with more than 100 teachers at the CJE conference, to be held at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls.
He will also lead sessions on signing rubric prayers and best practices in special education.
“It’s not enough to offer a class to accommodate certain students,” said Grossman. “You must also create an environment where they can grow to become productive members of the community,” Grossman said.
The CJE, cochaired by Dina Maiben of Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan and Ann Gabel of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, has provided teachers with professional growth opportunities since it was founded in 2001. It also brings in delegations of Israeli teens from the Arad and Tamar region of Israel, the federation’s Partnership 2000 community.
“Until now, schools were on their own to cobble together teaching programs,” Maiben said. “Between the support of federation and the participation of local synagogues, the CJE is able to pool our resources and put together a better quality program, for less money.”
This year’s conference theme, “Reaching Every Child, Teaching Every Child,” will also emphasize the use of modern technology as a teaching tool. Rabbi Laurence Malinger of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen will lead seminars on social media, texting, and the use of Twitter.
“Using the latest technology to set up an on-line community enables parents, teachers, and students to have an ongoing dialogue throughout the year, and allows us to reduce the number of mailings sent home,” Malinger said. “It doesn’t conflict with the fact that we are ‘the people of the book.’ We still study the text; we are just making it more accessible.”
Keeping teachers and students excited about learning is a primary focus of CJE, said Cindy Terebush, director of Temple Shalom Schools in Aberdeen. “Educators spend a lot of time imparting knowledge. We want it to be an effective, positive experience that both the students and teachers are excited and motivated about,” said Terebush, who will lead a conference seminar on multiple approaches to teaching grades K-three. “Teachers need to have the tools to reach young students no matter what stage they are at. They have years of religious education ahead of them, so it is critical they get a good, positive foundation.”
Other participating lecturers and workshop leaders include Dr. Shoshana Silberman, Sharon Halper, Jane Denny, Judy Levine, Cantor Jackie Shuchat-Marx, Cindy Quit, and Dr. Joel Edman.
The teachers’ conference will be held Sunday, Oct. 31, 8:45 a.m.-2 p.m. at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls. For more information, contact Ann Gabel at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dina Maiben at dmaiben@shaarie meth.org.