The Greater Whole: Enhancing inclusion efforts at Temple Beth Sholom

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The Greater Whole: Enhancing inclusion efforts at Temple Beth Sholom
Inclusion and Sensory Room

By Sharon Solomon

In forward-thinking Jewish and educational communities, it is understood that true inclusion is not simply tolerance, but the wholehearted acceptance of people, regardless of gender, race, class or one’s physical, emotional and intellectual needs.

For many years, we at Temple Beth Sholom have taken great pride in our principles of community and inclusiveness and have placed enormous energy and resources into programming designed to enhance these efforts.

Nevertheless, the spirit of inclusion is an ever-expanding one, and we continue to make strides to ensure that every congregant, student, family member and employee in our TBS community is seen as an integral part of the greater whole.

So, what does “true inclusion” look like?

It means purchasing large print siddurim for the visually impaired and improving the lighting in many areas of our building. It means handicap accessible ramps and brand-new grab bars in all our restrooms.

Further, it means the acquisition of highly qualified staff trained in special needs education, as well as funding vital programs such as our Madrichim (student aide) Program, a “pull-out resource room” for students with language challenges, more shadows in classrooms, and even a TBS “Homeschool Option”. At Temple Beth Sholom, we recognize that quality Jewish education cannot be a “one size fits all” package. We need programs tailored to fit the needs of all students, congregants and families.

It goes without saying that such innovative and inclusive programming does not simply create itself.

To that end, these wonderful projects owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the leadership of our Inclusion Committee Chairs, Pearl Halegua and Jocelyn Wasserman, as well as our educational leadership, VP of Education, Carrie Gordon and VP of Community Engagement, Rebecca Altman.

Last month, the Inclusion Committee, along with TBS educators, met at the home of Pearl Halegua to plan for this 2021-2022 calendar year.

Each year, it is essential that we assess our efforts on behalf of our congregation and students and evaluate our most pressing inclusionary needs. For example, during the past two years, we have placed a growing emphasis on the scope and depth of our Madrichim Program.

We have now merged the Makom Hebrew High School community service program and teens assisting in the classrooms into a single, comprehensive Madrichim Training Program.

Our teen madrichim not only learn valuable life skills, but are now taught the fundamentals of inclusion, and receive training on various topics such as differentiated instruction, child development milestones and how to set realistic expectations when assisting students with learning challenges.

Last, but not least, a goal of the Inclusion Committee is to bring greater inclusion awareness to our community-at-large. These efforts include bringing a special guest-speaker to TBS each February for Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. Stay tuned later this month to hear more about this year’s speaker.

True inclusion requires teamwork, compassion and dedication to the idea of a greater whole. It is an ever-evolving work which demands innovative programming and a significant financial commitment. But I assure you, the reward is far greater. Here at Temple Beth Sholom, we sincerely believe that together is better, and that enhancing our inclusionary efforts benefits us all.

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