Original Post Published On Foundation for the Jewish Camp

While doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, and so many others were working from home and not always feeling very “essential” during the pandemic, Austin, Tiffany, and other people with disabilities were teaching what it means to be and feel truly essential.

When the pandemic hit and it became clear that camp would not take place this summer in the same way it had in previous summers, Ramah campers across North America were deeply disappointed. In the months leading up to summer, campers with and without disabilities enjoyed dozens of quality programs offered by each individual camp and by National Ramah. Even with the availability of these programs, current members of our vocational training programs and alumni—many who found themselves out of work or no longer at in-person internships—expressed concerns that without a summer at camp, they would lose the opportunity to work on important vocational and social skills. We quickly mobilized to create TikvahNet, a series of 75-minute Zoom meetings facilitated by Ramah Tikvah staff, focusing on both job skills and socialization.

We recently kicked off our third 8-week series of TikvahNet programming. To date, over 80 current or former Tikvah voc ed program members have participated. For each session, the program coordinator and four staff members prepare PowerPoint slides, enabling participants with a wide range of intellectual and developmental disabilities and verbal abilities to fully participate in the program. Slides were shared with participants and families prior to each session so they could prepare in advance. We have learned about money management, workplace behavior, the elections and our right to vote, proper precautions to take during the pandemic, resumes, and self-advocacy. We have also cooked, danced, enjoyed a virtual tour of Israel and a Chanukah party, and made cards of appreciation to frontline workers. The level of dedication of the staff members truly led to the success of the program. They developed, individualized, and expanded the concept of TikvahNet so that it will continue even beyond the pandemic.

One of the great benefits of TikvahNet has been watching participants from Toronto socializing with old and new friends from Chicago, Seattle, Washington, Miami, and Los Angeles—across three time zones! Participants enjoy sharing stories of one very special thing they have in common—camp! They compare notes on similarities and differences between camps–special Shabbat foods, whether they have a pool or a lake, and where they pray on Shabbat. They look forward to ending each session with the Ramah-wide nighttime song, Rad Hayom.

Perhaps most inspiring has been listening to Austin and Tiffany tell the group about their jobs. Austin spoke about his job at a hospital in St. Louis, where he delivers food trays to patients in their rooms. “I am an essential worker!” he tells the group. Tiffany of Los Angeles adds, “I’m an essential worker, too! I work in a grocery store.” Austin and Tiffany are performing essential work and more importantly, are feeling like the essential workers that they are.

We hope to continue helping people with disabilities feel more essential and ultimately find meaningful employment. In the current phase of TikvahNet, we are inviting businesses who employ people with disabilities to describe what it takes to be hired by their companies. We have already heard from Blue Star Recyclers (computer and electronic recycling), and will soon hear from Luv Michael, a granola company. Two current TikahNet participants and their parents will soon join to share the story of Shred Support, the DC-area shredding company they started during the pandemic. These two young men with Down Syndrome, Uriel and Jacob, are doing essential work and teaching the community what it feels like to be essential.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish News Syndicate

The baseball 12-and-under set is preparing to compete for the Unity Cup in March, featuring Israel, the United Arab Emirates and potentially teams from other Gulf states.

In America’s Northeast, where the snow continues to fall, spring and baseball seem like distant dreams. But in Israel, spring is in full bloom, and baseball season is already underway. The dedicated members of the 12-and-under National Team of Israel are hard at work on the fields at Baptist Village in Petach Tikvah. They are preparing for the “Field of Peace” baseball tournament in March, which will feature Israel, the United Arab Emirates and potentially teams from other Gulf states.

Competing for the Unity Cup, players will begin their series of games March 21-25 at none other than the Dubai Little League Park next to Al Quoz Pond Park. The teams will meet again in Tel Aviv in the fall of 2021.

Baseball has come a long way since team manager Louie Miller made aliyah with his family in 1998 at age 14. His parents hoped to share their love of baseball with youth in Israel. They somehow came to Israel with five children in tow, all of their possessions and managed to donate bats, catchers’ gear and other baseball equipment they had secured from the JCC Little League in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Miller played on the JCC travel team in Pittsburgh as a boy and continued to play as a teen in Israel. “There were no great options for high school baseball,” notes Miller, who also worked as a volunteer coach. “After the army, there were no options to become a coach and make a living. Everyone had a day job and coached on Fridays.”

Yaniv Rosenfeld, Israel Association of Baseball’s (IAB) Operations Manager, helped change that.

Rosenfeld, who lives in Misgav in the Galilee and established the Misgav Baseball club in 2013, was looking to change the image of baseball in Israel and to create opportunities for young Israelis to make a living in baseball. Now, Miller playfully reports, “I am one of the first people in Israel who makes a living by coaching baseball!” The trained social worker moved up north five years ago to start a youth program. They started with 35 participants and have grown to 225. It is Miller’s seventh year coaching the under-12 team.

The members of the 12-and-under National Team of Israel. Source: Screenshot.

‘The next generation of Israeli baseball’

While the team managed to travel to Italy last summer, this has been a quiet year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Then, Jordy Alter, the IAB vice president and Peter Kurz, IAB president and general manager of Team Israel, had an idea—organize a tournament with a team in the UAE, thanks in part to the recently signed Abraham Accords.

Miller notes, “I jumped at the opportunity to go to a place where only a few months ago we couldn’t go.”

Kurz adds that “this is the IAB’s own contribution to co-existence with our neighbors. We began reaching out to the Israeli-Arab population with our program, ‘Baseball for All,’ and now with the ‘Field of Peace’ tournament, we are reaching out to our surrounding neighbors. We hope this competition will become a regional one, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and others taking part as well, and we look forward to hosting our partners in Israel in the fall.”

Dubai Little League president Roger Duthie and his IAB counterpart, Jordy Alter, said in a joint statement: “We are excited to enter a new era of cooperation between our organizations and countries. We strive together to develop the game of baseball in Israel and Dubai as a basis for peace and cooperation between our countries. We see this as a major step forward in both areas and are excited to jointly hold the first team sports tournament between our countries. We hope these games lead to further regional cooperation.”

The players are similarly elated about the upcoming trip. Miller says “they are excited just to play ball. They understand that it is glamorous—that the field and facilities are amazing and the Little League program there is top-notch.”

Dubai Little League has more than 400 kids playing baseball and softball in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Founded in 1998, Dubai Little League has seven divisions ranging from ages 4 to 18.

As part of the expansion of baseball activities in Israel, the IAB is building new fields and looks forward to the completion of the new Bet Shemesh complex, which will host international tournaments, as well as the Ra’anana field, which will be a joint baseball-soccer facility, both slated for 2021.

Miller can’t be happier. “We are seeing the next generation of Israeli baseball,” he states.

Proof of this is the fact that more than 60 kids tried out for the national team, which Miller calls “unprecedented.” While the majority are still new olim or children of American immigrants, Miller reports that they are now seeing native-born Israelis playing as well.

“In my opinion, the main goal of under-12 baseball is to have these kids who often haven’t seen high-level baseball experience what top level baseball is like and turn them in to ballplayers,” he explains. “This is exactly what the tournament will do for these 28 players—our largest delegation ever. These are the ones who will want to become ball players and stick with it!”

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Howard will be giving two presentations at the FIN Community for ALL (C4A) Conference  on Friday February 26th.

Please join the Faith Inclusion Network community as we come together to learn how to strengthen communities in congregations, learn from self-advocates and share the most recent knowledge of inclusion in faith communities and congregations, including how faith communities have made adjustments through the Covid-19 Pandemic.

My talks include:

  • The Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah: 50 Years of Inclusive Camping and Still Evolving
  • B’nai Mitzvah: Creating Meaningful Coming of Age Ceremonies for Jewish People with Disabilities (with colleagues Shelly Christensen, MA, and Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, MA)
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Meet Professor Stephen Shore: Diagnosed with “Atypical Development and strong autistic tendencies” and “too sick” for outpatient treatment Dr. Shore was recommended for institutionalization. Nonspeaking until 4, and with much support from his parents, teachers, wife, and others, Stephen is now a full time professor at Adelphi University and adjunct at NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, focusing on aligning best practice in supporting autistic people to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

See the Meeting here:-


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