The first person to teach me about inclusion was my mother, z’’l. She was a fierce advocate within the Newton public school system and pioneered a program of mainstreaming for children with disabilities. The title of her dissertation, “Just Another Kid in our Class,” reflected her deeply held belief: Every child deserves to be seen, included, and accepted. It was also the ethos with which she raised us.
My latest teachers on inclusion included several young adults from the Israeli organization Mikhall, committed to mentoring younger kids with all kinds of disabilities and modeling for them what it means to overcome hardship and live a full and rich life.
“We all have our challenges.” Joe shared. He was one of the founders of Mikhall and our guide for the day. I came to hear him as a part of a group of mothers and their daughters (an integrated group with kids who have all sorts of abilities and disabilities) preparing for their Bat Mitzvah. We sat on a shady patch of grass in the town of Yavneh, just outside of Tel Aviv. Joe’s vision is highly impaired and while his story is unique to him, the questions he asked to the group applied to all of us.
- Did you feel left out sometimes?
Did you ever wish that people saw you for who you know you are on the inside instead of what they can see from the outside?
Did you ever feel like something was so hard you wanted to give up?
What if you had no choice… and you worked really hard to overcome what was hard for you? Did that eventually make you stronger? Did it make you more sensitive or more empathic to others?
As he was speaking I was looking at all of the mothers and daughters assembled there. We all had our own answers to the questions he was posing.
While the starting point for programs on inclusion in the educational system may be to mainstream the children who have the disability into a ‘regular’ classroom, the impact on the other kids is profound. They develop a deeper understanding of other children and can become their advocates. Imagine expanding inclusion into all aspects of our lives – our communal spaces, synagogues, and even social circles.
Seeking out these opportunities can be an education of a lifetime for all of us.
Blessings for the journey,