I will be speaking and participating in the following event on 25 March.

Presentation will be for Establishing Trust and Getting What You Need Through The Intake Process.

To attend fill this form

FJC Yashar Training
The Yashar Training Days will take place on:
Monday, March 25 in New York
Thursday, April 4 in Chicago
Monday, April 15 in Los Angeles

If you have any questions, please contact marissa.becker@jewishcamp.org, or646-278-4512.

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Original Article on The LookStein Center

When the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in Glen Spey, New York began including campers with disabilities in 1970, it began attracting campers and families from a range of Jewish backgrounds—from unaffiliated to Hasidic. At the time, there were no other summer camp options for Jewish children and young adults with disabilities. More options exist nowadays to serve campers with a wide range of disabilities. And they continue to attract campers from families with diverse backgrounds. In a Jewish summer camp context, an Orthodox male rabbi and a female Reconstructionist rabbi sit together and talk—not about God, Kashrut or Shabbat, but they can speak—parent to parent—about autism and vocational training.

Opportunities exist beyond the camping world for Jews of diverse streams and backgrounds to meet, interact and share openly. Specialized Jewish day schools are uniquely positioned to offer even more than camps in terms of Jewish learning and services to parents and families—all year round. The Shefa School in New York City is a model of Jewish day school which offers a unique educational approach to learners from diverse family backgrounds.

The Shefa School reports that it is a Jewish community day school serving students in grades 1-8 who benefit from a specialized educational environment in order to develop their strengths while addressing their learning challenges. All students at Shefa have language-based learning disabilities and have not yet reached their potential levels of success in traditional classroom settings. Many students have started out at other Jewish day schools which may be more in line with the family’s religious outlook. They have come to Shefa in search of a school that understands their child’s learning needs, and often to help restore their self-esteem.

Shefa is proud to call itself “a pluralistic community school serving families across the range of Jewish involvement and observance.” The name “Shefa” which means “abundance” was chosen because “we believe that our students possess an abundance of unique gifts, talents, skills, and insights. Our job is to nourish them emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

Founder and head of the 143 student school, Ilana Ruskay-Kidd stresses the need to always be “open and reflective” and notes that the school is “always a work in progress.” She tries hard to create an environment where everyone feels they can come and talk about anything. On the school’s website, under FAQ’s the question of “What is the Jewish orientation of the school?” is addressed as follows: “The Shefa School is a pluralistic community school, seeking to serve families across the Jewish spectrum. Our goal is to make Shefa a welcoming place that integrates rich Jewish values, community, culture, traditions, and holidays — regardless of each family’s particular practice or affiliation. We serve only kosher food and observe all holidays in accordance with the Jewish calendar. Shefa nurtures our students’ commitment to Jewish values and teaches the skills to enable them to participate fully in Jewish life.”

Schools like Shefa require a dedication, self-reflection, and diplomacy. Despite a great deal of forethought, and the best of efforts to anticipate situations which might arise, issues small and seemingly large arise from time to time. These issues are actually opportunities in disguise as they force community members, teachers and administrators to be honest and communicative, and to consider what is and isn’t negotiable. One time, a mother from a very traditional background asked Ruskay-Kidd, “If we are uncomfortable with the Jewish Studies, can we pull our daughter out?” Ruskay-Kidd offered a calculated, thoughtful reply. Learning Jewish Studies together was non-negotiable, but she encouraged the mother to come talk to her about what was making her uncomfortable.

One family asked if Shefa offers a Sephardic minyan. While the school at first didn’t want to “keep separating” the students, they realized the family had a valid point. “The school is probably one third Sephardic,” notes Ruskay-Kidd, “and most of our tunes were Ashkenazic.” The school brought in a person to teach the whole school about Sephardic liturgy and to introduce Sephardic tunes. “Every synagogue has slightly different melodies… Our goal is to be flexible.” The school itself has evolved and now offers a range of tefillah options including mehitza, no mehitza, learners and meditation/exploratory prayer options.

Ruskay-Kidd is pleased as she observes, “We live happily and peacefully together. In a given week, we don’t usually see issues. In a year, we might.” Many likely-to-arise situations, though not all, are addressed in advance: Kashrut (strictly kosher, nationally accepted supervisions, but not Halav Yisrael), kipot; (“we spent so much time on this one—they are strongly encouraged; default is to put it on; one or two have philosophical complaints; and kipot sometimes fall off of heads!” Ruskay-Kidd reports that all wear kipot for Limudei Kodesh and estimates that 50% wear kipot all day long); dress (“kids dress how their community dresses;” requirement is dark bottoms—skirt or pants, no tank tops).

Yet, “situations” do come up—sometimes “caused” quite innocently by families and sometimes even by the school. On one occasion, a non-Sabbath observant family (likely quite innocently) scheduled a bar mitzvah reception which started before Shabbat was over. On another occasion, the school inadvertently almost caused an uncomfortable situation for some students around a seemingly fabulous-for-all community service opportunity. Students had the chance to volunteer at a very established program four blocks from the school which serves 1000 meals a day. But it took place in a church—which was problematic for some families. The school sensitively began to offer this as one of several community service options.

Other issues which may arise in a school like Shefa: teaching Torah (“How we teach the meaning of Vayomer Hashem”), science (“Are dinosaurs real?”) and health education (“Can you opt out?” “Why do boys have to learn about girls’ bodies?”).

Each situation which arises offers opportunities for reflection, problem solving and honest communication. The head of school can’t assume everyone is familiar with “basic” words like shalakh manos (food gifts sent on Purim); at the same time, over-translating may make some more traditional families question just “how Jewish” the school is!

Sometimes the students themselves are the best problem solvers. One traditional student was feeling uncomfortable with a morning greeting ritual which involved students either handshaking or fist bumping the student next to him. He was worried that he may not always be next to a boy and was uncomfortable with the possibility of having this exchange with a girl. While his parents didn’t find this to be problematic halachically, the boy told his parents one evening that it was a “big problem” for him. His parents spoke with him about perhaps explaining his “family tradition” with the class” and waving to a girl who might be sitting next to him. Within seconds, he was already planning (with minimal coaching!) what he was going to tell his classmates. Problem solved!

Ruskay-Kidd reflects on each of these situations and playfully recalls the well-known saying about pluralism. “That is when all of us are comfortable most of the time—but none of us are comfortable all of the time.” Shefa families are clearly happy, and they are emissaries for the school in their respective, diverse communities across the New York tristate area. “It is so inspiring and moving to watch what it means to love your child. The distance they travel…all (of what seems at first to be) barriers…they all disappear!”

Settings like Camp Ramah and the Shefa School demonstrate that it is indeed possible to foster relationships between Jews of diverse backgrounds. Early childhood program and pluralistic day schools are similarly making strides to bring together all kinds of learners and families. Hillel and Limmud and various cross-denominational rabbinic encounter programs AJWS (American Jewish World Service), AIPAC and the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Rabbinic Leadership Initiative show what can be accomplished with diverse groups of adults.

Jewish adults coming together goes back to the 600,000 plus who assembled at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah and continued with Jews coming together around such large issues as the plight of Soviet Jewry (250,000 demonstrated on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Sunday, December 6, 1987) and recently in solidarity with the people of Pittsburgh.

Let us continue to strive to develop models of assembling, learning, communicating and sharing in even more Jewish settings.

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[WORDS] Bookstore
179 Maplewood Ave, Maplewood, NJ 07040
(a second smaller location is now open in LifeTown village, the Friendship Circle program in Livingston, NJ)
(973) 763-9500

http://wordsbookstore.com/

Name of contact/founder: Jonah Zimiles

“Bookstore in New Jersey suburb of Maplewood where people with autism receive training and work. Owner is proud that many use this training and move on to other jobs. Store is a “safe space” for people with autism and their families. The well-stocked bookstore has a disabilities/special needs section with books and resources. Store features regular author talks as well.”

My Visit/The Story of [Words]:

I originally learned of [Words] and its founder/owner, Jonah Zimiles, at the HIlibrand Autism Conference in NYC a few years ago. Jonah was kind enough to invite me to visit , take a tour, and learn about the book store.
Jonah had been a lawyer and law clerk and eventually worked in the Jewish community as head of planned giving for Council of Jewish Federations. He then began cutting back his work hours to spend more time with his son with autism. He was considering various “more manageable” job opportunities and decided to get an MBA in social enterprise. He considered starting a consulting firm or a fund. One idea was to consult to small businesses in exchange for getting them to hire people with disabilities. His wife, Ellen wanted to open a vocational institute when their son with autism was 12. She then saw a sign for a bookstore which was closing. They decided to purchase the book store, run the business and do the training.
The tour of the book store with Jonah included such well stocked sections as adult and children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, travel, test preparation, disabilities and more. The store also sells such items as book lights, mugs, socks, greeting cards and more. The store features advertisements for upcoming author talk and other events which take place on a regular basis in the same downstairs space where many of the employees with disabilities work.
Jonah’s original plan when they started the store in 2008 was for a 6-month apprenticeship which “gave a heksher” to the training participants receive. They would then get hired to work in another industry or store (in a Barnes and Noble, for example). Jonah has observed that many job sites focus on the highest functioning people with autism, whereas he focuses on “middle to bottom” and people who are nonverbal. He notes that most skills learned in the bookstore are applicable outside of a bookstore environment.
To date, more than 100 people with disabilities have received training and worked in the bookstore, doing such jobs as recycling, breaking down boxes, making deliveries, driving to the town dump (some participants have driving licenses), cleaning, and shelving books. Some workers do direct work with customers, though most do the types of behind the scenes jobs mentioned above. Jonah commented on just how difficult it is for even a person who is neuroypical to be a sales person as they need to know books and be hyper-social with a sales personality. As we discussed training in both hard (job) skills and soft (interpersonal, job site) skills, Jonah was emphatic in noting, “If they can do the task, we don’t care what the behaviors are.” Jonah would prefer they get jobs done which are valued by society (i.e laundry), “even if they are making noises while working!” Jonah pays his employees (though he is not permitted to pay the trainees who come through the school district). He feels the concern often raised that people with disabilities jeopardize their Social Security benefits by working is “overblown” since most can’t and don’t work that many hours.

From the website:

Our mission & vision: [words]‘ mission is to serve Maplewood and surrounding communities by offering an engaging and welcoming atmosphere for people and families of all stripes to pursue their literary interests. In particular, we are dedicated to the families in our community that have a member with a developmental disability. We strive to help Maplewood become a model community of inclusion through our treatment of disabled customers and employees, especially those with autism.

Lessons Learned/Observations:

-We didn’t know how to do retail when we started off. We were not vocational training experts when we started—these were two big challenges

-The special needs part is the easiest part of the job; running a business is extremely difficult (“I sell over a million dollars of books in the store and still struggle to break even”)

-Autism Speaks and Extraordinary Ventures identified 10-15 businesses like Words, Rising Tide Car Wash, etc. approximately five years ago and had a conference—informs me there WAS a similar initiative to what I am doing (he also suggests that this has not continued and feels there is a need for bringing various stakeholders together.

-Most of the jobs available to people with autism deal with a small segment the autism population (he calls them “The Ivy Leagues.” He reports, “We are interested in the much tougher “middle to bottom” part of the spectrum. I am interested in people with limited language. A disproportionate number of programs focus on the higher functioning group.”

-Google and other companies hiring people with disabilities is wonderful BUT it gives a very distorted view of autism and disabilities (most do not function at this level)
-More people need to address the problem.

-Families of children with disabilities, even those “of means” often can’t make big donations of money to organizations since they will have life-long financial needs related to their children (as they age).

-The number of details I need to know about stuff can be overwhelming. I need to review 20,000 books per year and this is just front list adult buying (others do kids and replenishment). These take time and effort. It is a LOT of work”

-There are always new and unexpected costs. For example, there is a new charge for green in the town; it is constant (the charge), but it is the reality. Also, there is competition (others in the same business)
-Websites are ridiculously hard (and costly)—they require constant upkeep

-If they can do the task, we don’t care what the behaviors are” (teach them to get jobs done which are valued by society. For example, I’d prefer they “get the laundry done!”—even if they are making noises while working!

-Wife Ellen reports in a CBS 880 radio interview: “People with autism are adults longer than they are children”—this is why we need job sites and jobs!

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Original Article in Jerusalem Post

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history.

NEW YORK – The packed crowd at the Mercury Lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side last week was witnessing a rare feat – the New York debut of a band that formed in 1967.

Ace of Cups, the all-female San Francisco rock band from the heady Summer of Love, who shared stages with the Grateful Dead, The Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and opened for Jimi Hendrix at a free concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, might have been one of the only hippie bands of the era who didn’t nab a recording contract and become stars.

However, a half-century later, with it members now grandmas and hovering around the 70-year-old mark, the band with four of the original five Aces – Denise Kaufman (vocals, bass, harmonica), Mary Gannon (vocals, ukulele, bass), Mary Ellen Simpson (vocals, lead guitar), and Diane Vitalich (vocals, drums) – were rocking the crowd and enjoying the accolades.

Their debut album released late last year, and featuring contemporaries like Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), David Freiberg (Quicksilver Messenger Service), Barry Melton (Country Joe & The Fish), Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Moonalice), David Grisman, Steve Kimock (Zero, RatDog), Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Taj Mahal and Buffy Sainte-Marie, has won them the full-fledged recognition that evaded them the first time around, as well as a sense of vindication and jubilation.

The Jewish and engaging Kaufman is perhaps its most colorful member. Her family and personal stories weave deep connections to Jewish causes while offering a window into American history – from the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to the early and late 60’s Bay Area scene.  

Raised in northern California, Kaufman played piano, guitar and wrote songs from an early age. At her high-school graduation in Palo Alto, Jerry Garcia, the famed lead singer and guitarist of the Grateful Dead, played at the after party. She traveled on Ken Kesey’s bus as part of the Merry Pranksters (when LSD was available in vats of Kool-Aid), and was chronicled as Mary Microgram in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kaufman attended Lowell All-City School in San Francisco for the first two years of high school, joining her first picket line in San Francisco at age 14. She then transferred to the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, “the same school Grace Slick had previously attended.”

The legends of the up-and-coming 60’s music scene were very accessible. When Kaufman graduated high school in 1964, she arranged to rent Bimbo’s 365 Club in North Beach, San Francisco. “I had to find a band, and hired my favorite local band, The Zodiacs, which included Pigpen [Ron McKernan] and Jerry [Garcia]!”

After taking summer school classes at Stanford, Kaufman started her studies at UC Berkley, intending to study political science and theater. 

“It was always my vision. Kennedy had been shot. I was in Youth for Kennedy. I studied Latin American studies and Shakespeare.”

Berkeley was emerging as a center of activism and protests. 

“Outside of Sprout Hall, every political perspective was represented by the card tables full of brochures and people on soapboxes. There was a sense of ‘We can do this! We can change the world. We have to!’ I was in heaven there!”  

Kaufman vividly recalls that, within a few weeks of arriving at Berkeley, the campus police removed all the tables and told the organizations that they could no longer operate in any way on the campus. 

“This started the Free Speech Movement,” she continued. “From the first day, I was one of the students ready to fight this battle. Within two months, 700 of us got arrested and our free speech rights were eventually upheld.”

As the counterculture unfolded with its twin flags of music and drugs, Kaufman indulged in both. She describes her involvement with LSD as having “a deeply life-altering effect – there were no words to talk about it.” Even though it wasn’t yet illegal, she recalled that she met resistance at home. “My parents were terrified,” she said, adding that she was one of the youngest involved in Kesey’s escapades, along with the Dead’s Weir and Mountain Girl, Kesey’s girlfriend who would go on to become Jerry Garcia’s wife.

Kaufman always felt she was embodying the Jewish values and that they were always a part of the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco 1960’s scene. “It was all so intertwined.”  

She notes the involvement of so many of her peers in various civil rights, social justice and spirituality causes and movements.

After meeting the other women in Haight-Ashbury in early 1967, Kaufman and Ace of Cups became integral components of the live music scene in the Bay Area. She was romantically linked to both Paul Simon and to Rolling Stone-founder Jann Wenner.

However, at the same time as compatriots like Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were catching national attention fronting male-dominated bands and receiving record contracts, Ace of Cups were facing challenges. 

“The record label guys that were coming up from LA didn’t know what to do with us. I don’t think we fit in with what they wanted,” said Kaufman. 

They stuck it out without a recording contract for another few years, but by 1972, the band was finished and music made way for motherhood, family responsibilities, “day jobs,” and for Kaufman, life in such exotic places as Kauai, Hawaii.

But nearly 35 years after performing with Jimi Hendrix, the band had an important break – in 2003, it released “It’s Bad for You But Buy It!,” a well-received CD of 1960s “rehearsals, demos, TV soundstage recordings, and in-concert tapes.” 

In 2008, a DVD of their performances from the 1968 television program West Pole was released. 

An even bigger break came on May 14, 2011 when the band reformed and performed at Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday party and a SEVA Foundation benefit. George Baer Wallace, founder of High Moon Records – in attendance at the Mercury Lounge show – was moved by their performance and offered them a recording contract.

Once again in the limelight, their schedule has been demanding and fun-filled. Before their Mercury Lounge show, the band members appeared onstage with Sirius FM radio host Gary Lambert, who playfully suggested they receive a Grammy Award for best new artist.

The evening kicked off with a video showing the band’s storied history, and continued with an animated Q and A discussion with music editors and writers from Rolling Stone, Relix and other publications. The band played a full electric set and Patti Smith Band guitarist and rock historian Lenny Kaye joined the band for “The Well.”

The next day, they went to Philadelphia for NPR’s World Cafe, and were out late Wednesday attending a Wailers concert at Brooklyn Bowl. Later in the week, they participated in a Friday Night Jam with Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Relix’s Mike Greenhaus at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.  

The band proudly reports that they have so much additional material that they’ll release their follow up album next year, featuring contributions from Jackson Browne, Wavy Gravy and others. 

The Grateful Dead may have written the line, but it most accurately applies to Ace of Cups – “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

A JEWISH JOURNEY

Denise Kaufman’s parents were “deeply involved” in Jewish causes. “People always came to our home for dinner – from Brandeis, Hadassah, Federation – causes related to Israel.”

She has photos of her parents with both Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan from fund-raising trips they took to America, and she traveled to Israel – once with her parents, and once with a boyfriend in 1980. Her parents even owned an apartment in Netanya.

“They always gave it to their friends to stay in order to have a more local experience of Israel,” she says.

Kaufman mostly raised her now-adult daughter, Tora, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where she cofounded a school (The Island School), arranged Seders (“We had 120 for a seder in 1983!”), served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Hawaii, and hosted Entebbe mission physician Ilan Kutz.

Kaufman speaks fondly of the Friedmans, Israeli friends she met on Kauai in 1980. “Their daughter and her family now have an organic a farm next to ours.”

In 1980, Kaufman and her boyfriend spent a few months in Israel, which she recalls affectionately. They played Hawaiian music (on the dulcimer and guitar), and appeared on the Israeli TV program, Kitoret, with Yaron London. They played at Jerusalem’s Tzavta Theater, surfed in Yamit (“We bought a little car”), surfed and camped in Dahab, in the Sinai.

“One of the most amazing musical experiences of my life happened under the stars in Dahab. We started playing music in the desert night – there were no lights and we couldn’t see anyone, but people in the dunes around us began to join us in song. We sang with an unknown choir almost till dawn.”

Kaufman continues to be actively involved in Jewish life. She speaks fondly of Rabbi Mordecai Finley, her rabbi at Ohr HaTorah in Los Angeles, where she currently spends most of her time. She plays bass there every Shabbat and holiday when she is in town. Kaufman notes that this was also Leonard Cohen’s shul.

In Los Angeles, when she’s not rocking with the Ace of Cups, Kaufman is a private yoga teacher and has worked with Madonna, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, and former basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


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