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Advancing the Jewish Special Education Program at Hebrew College

Despite the significant of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the Jewish life cycle, most synagogues are unprepared to accommodate children with special needs, and most tutors do not have the skills to teach them effectively. The NLM Family Foundation has supported Hebrew College who, in partnership with Boston-based Special Needs program, Etgar L’Noar, serves children with moderate to severe special needs who are approaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah. These students have a variety of physical, cognitive, and/or behavioral impairments. Nearly half have diagnoses on the autism spectrum, in addition to other diagnoses in many cases. The program provided individual training to children and a supportive community of other Jewish students with special needs, while offering a living laboratory experience for Hebrew College student- teachers. Working with his/her student- teacher on an individualized program, each child had the opportunity to study, prepare, and practice the prayers, blessings, Torah reading, d’var torah, and other elements of his/her particular Bar/Bat Mitzvah. During group activities students practiced their skills in a supportive environment. The curriculum also included a tzedekah project for the class as a whole, so that these students, who have received so much help from others, can themselves experience the gift of giving. The students performed the ceremonies in their home communities so that they could become more integrated in the communities to which they belong.