INCLUDE Day of Learning | A Window into the Work

Recently, 50 educators gathered from all over the Bay Area for our annual INCLUDE Day of Learning, a day focused on the inclusion of people with special needs in Early Childhood and K-8 Jewish educational programs.  

The experience affords an opportunity to reflect on our methodologies – not WHAT we teach, but HOW we aim to impact Jewish learning.

Meredith Englander Polsky engages with attendees

Meredith Englander Polsky engages with attendees

In our work, we often face a dilemma.  

Teachers most often seek practical help – tools, techniques, resources – specific tools that they can use to improve their practice.  In the world of leadership development, one might call these “technical solutions.”

Eve Margol addresses differentiated learning

Eve Margol addresses differentiated learning

However, we are not satisfied by technical solutions, because technical solutions are a band-aid. Instead, we seek to address these technical challenges by pursuing, promoting and training toward higher-level thinking to effect deeper changes – in day-to-day practice AND in the way we think.  

Dr. David Neufeld takes questions

Dr. David Neufeld takes questions

Addressing these higher-level challenges might be called “adaptive thinking" and have a better chance of resulting in "adaptive solutions.”  One method by which we help influence these adaptive approaches is to provide “educational thought leadership” - helping educators think differently about important aspects of their practice.

But we don't stop there.  We pour tremendous energy into deepening our efforts to expand beyond thought leadership.  We work to equip educators with knowledge, skills and tools that they are prepared to use in their classrooms.

Yesterday, we brought Meredith Englander Polsky, Covenant Educator Award winner and founder of a sister inclusion organization, Matan, and her colleague, Eve Margol, founder of Linked Education Resources from New York to our community to partner with our own Dr. David Neufeld.  Together, the three thought leaders engaged with 50 educators representing a huge cross section of our community on this very subject. 

I'm thrilled to report that participant reactions indicate shifts in deeper thinking, one educator reported "really understanding that every child is made in the image of G-d and remembering and honoring that even in the hardest moments." And, every single educator was able to report concrete actions they plan to bring to their classrooms.  

Other evaluations similarly referred to both modes of learning – “Eve’s workshop…was a dream because it contained a lot of concrete tools and strategies…” and “I loved David’s workshop on integrating sensory  tools…eye-opening and really helpful,” and “I loved how you addressed the emotions and concerns that we educators have about ourselves…”  Though these comments were cherry-picked, the evaluations were uniformly and enthusiastically positive.

If you would like to know more about what was covered during the Day of Learning or if you are interested in supporting this important work in some way, please be in touch with David Neufeld -

A day at Special Needs Family Camp

A letter to our Board and to the many supporters who enable our work


I spent a few hours this weekend up at our Special Needs Family Camp, as usual, I was blown away.

My wife, Ellen and I attended the talent show Saturday night.  This is an annual highlight when (mostly) the kids perform.  Some parents, some staff but mostly the kids.  And by the kids, I mean those kids who are there because of their special needs and also some of their siblings for whom the opportunity to be the center of attention is itself a rare one.

Kids ages 6 to 24 from the Peninsula to Sacramento, San Francisco to the East Bay took the stage to perform "from each according to their ability."

Performances included singing songs, playing an instrument, doing a dance, or even just blowing one note on a recorder.  The audience – kids, siblings, parents, staff, guests – all took enormous delight with each performance.

After the talent show – there was a pajama party for the kids and a wine reception for the parents.  These are, for the most part, parents who are rarely, if ever, able to hire a baby-sitter;  one of the great benefits of this weekend is our 1:1 staff-camper ratio gives them much needed respite.  As one dad told us:  “I actually took a nap today.  I can’t remember the last time I was able to just take a nap.”

Our staff consists of adults and teens from a variety of backgrounds. Several Jewish LearningWorks staff (present and past) VOLUNTEER and we also rely on Sonoma State students– which means a ton of youthful energy.  We had some teen volunteers and seasoned volunteers as well as some experts brought in to lead workshops for parents (e.g., speech pathology, financial planning, etc).  Rabbi Rick Winer (Fresno) was our designated spiritual leader, along with his wife, educator Rabbi Laura Novak-Winer and their son Max Winer who was our Song leader.  Rabbi Meredith Cahn and Reb Irwin, former Family Camp Spiritual leaders, as well as Dance Specialist Bruce Bierman also joined us. David Neufeld was there, of course; we contract the wonderful Cheryl Cohen, an East Bay educator, to direct the camp.

When I attend INCLUDE events, parents always come up to thank me – which is odd because I have less to do with the camp than any other staffer there.  I try to act humble, but the fact is – they are thanking me as the representative of YOU.   They know  that this project costs money – they are thanking me, they explain, because Jewish LearningWorks continues to make them and their kids a priority.  Because we, by virtue of this camp, continue to remind them that they are part of the Jewish people, and that they and their children are important to us and our community.  This is, unfortunately, not always obvious to them and not always reinforced in their interactions with the Jewish community (this is what we are trying to change, right?). 

Our tag line for “Creating Inclusive Jewish Community” reads – “Creating safe space for all families to feel welcomed and included in Jewish communal experience, regardless of background or ability.

That is exactly what I take away from Special Needs Family Camp each year and that is why we do it.

So, again, on behalf of the parents, I convey their message to you:  Thank you.

David Waksberg, CEO
Jewish LearningWorks

All Over The Bay In A Single Day

It was a busy weekend for Jewish LearningWorks.  We were in the North and South Peninsula, Silicon Valley, East Bay and Marin doing what we do best:
Connecting families to Jewish life
Creating inclusive community
Deepening connections to Israel
Building Jewish literacy
Strengthening our institutions

In Marin, fifteen parents, from three new groups attended a training for the parent-led program, Shalom Explorers where we (Jewish LearningWorks) provides the curriculum and support, but the parents act as teachers for the groups.

Shalom Explorers Training Session

Shalom Explorers Training Session

Participants from about 10 institutions joined us for the first of our Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion: Opening Your Synagogue Door Even Wider seminars, which launched at Temple Sinai. Designed for all synagogue leaders, including congregational rabbis, educators, teachers, board members, staff and lay people, this series supports those who desire to make their organization/community more inclusive.

The final celebration in honor of Jewish Disabilities Month included Family Access Day at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and we ran Exploring the World of Judaism classes at Peninsula Temple SholomTemple Sinai, and Congregation Shir Hadash.

Earlier in the week, the Jewish Community Library hosted a musical presentation of Lilith the Night Demon.

At our Peninsula Learning Center, Pamela Mayer, author of the Jewish children’s book – Don’t Sneeze at the Wedding, led a Story Time & Crafts program for young families, co-sponsored by PJ Library and promoted by our Kesher concierge program.

Pamela Mayer's reading of her book

Pamela Mayer's reading of her book

 Families working together on arts & crafts projects

 Families working together on arts & crafts projects

Meanwhile, In Berkeley, Ilan Vitemberg, Director, Israel Education Initiative, led a congregational re-envisioning of their school’s Israel education at Congregation Beth El.

There was a lot going on this weekend, and even more coming up next month.
To keep up with the exciting work and new programs, sign up for our newsletter or Like us on Facebook.

Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion: Opening Your Synagogue Door Even Wider

We are pleased to announce that INCLUDE is joining with Be'chol LashonInterfaithFamily, and Keshet on a groundbreaking series of interactive workshops on inclusion for synagogue communities.  Registration is now open

Over the course of four Sunday afternoon workshops offered at various locations throughout the Bay Area, you will delve into the sometimes complicated issues that arise around inclusion. Assess your congregation’s inclusivity and discover new ways of building inclusion into worship, education, and community programming with other congregational representatives. Workshop dates are February 23March 30April 27, and June 8; attend just one or sign up for all four. The series is designed for all synagogue leaders, including congregational rabbis, educators, teachers, board members, staff, and lay people.

Have you heard about Shalom Explorers?

It’s a new Approach to Jewish Learning for Families with kids in K-1!

Shalom Explorers gets your kids out and about while making new friends and learning Jewish values and traditions. If your family is looking for a new way to “do Jewish”, we encourage you to check it out.  Marin Shalom Explorers welcomes all Jewish and interfaith families in Marin County regardless of background or membership in any organization. Modeled after Scouting, Shalom Explorers is designed to be led by parents. We give you the tools and support  you need  to guide your group through explorations of stories and values that speak to our daily lives and reinforce important ethics.  

Expect hands-on indoor and outdoor activities which explore friendship, collaboration, open-mindedness, protecting the environment, community, and helping others through art, drama, nature, team-building and At-Home Challenges.  

Sign up now to be part of this FREE pilot session!  

*Groups for k-2 coming in the Fall

For more information please contact Aliya Fastman 510 292 9562

This program is provided by Jewish LearningWorks, the Osher Marin JCC, Congregation Kol Shofar and Congregation Rodef Sholom and funded in part by the Covenant Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Shalom Explorers is Here!


The launch of the new Shalom Explorers program has finally arrived and the wait was well worth it.

We have spent the last few months carefully designing an experience for families with kids in grades K - 2.  We partnered with Urban Adamah in Berkeley, an award winning Jewish urban farm in the East Bay to help us write the most amazing curriculum, and we are now ready to share it with you. 

This January we will be piloting the program with groups in Marin. New Explorer groups will meet over the remaining five months of the school year and as this is the pilot year, participation is free. 

Shalom Explorers is an experiential, home based learning program designed to be led by parents, empowering them to guide the group through explorations of Jewish stories and values that speak to our every day lives and reinforce important ethics.  Being caretakers of the earth, cultivating a sense of gratitude, and respecting the power of words are among the units that make up the Shalom Explorers curriculum.

Shalom Explorers meetings are designed to be accessible to all families, regardless of affiliation, previous education, or religious background.  We are excited to have reached this point and are looking to be in touch with families who are interested in joining. The classes this winter will be for kindergartners and first graders. Second grade will be added with the launch of the full program in Fall 2014.

If you have any questions or just want to chat about the program, contact the new program coordinator Aliya Fastman 510 292 9562

This program is provided by Jewish LearningWorks, the Osher Marin JCC, Congregation Kol Shofar and Congregation Rodef Sholom and funded in part by the Covenant Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.