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 -

Hanukkah @Shul

Kids fidget. Adults fidget. Everyone has a little trouble focusing sometimes. Several years ago, when Hanukkah fell on Shabbat, we created these printable activity pages to help keep little hands engaged with Hanukkah @Shul. 

Don't let the title fool you - It can be used in your home, in the car and everywhere in between.

Reflection on INCLUDE Special Needs Family Camp Reunion

On February 14th, we hosted another incredible Special Needs Family Camp Reunion.  We received a lovely note from a participating family, which we share here to offer a window into the important work of Inclusion.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful afternoon yesterday.  My husband and I were discussing the whole event on the way home.  Our family had such a good time -- all of us!   It was really wonderful to be in the environment of "family camp" again and to see people who we care so much about.  It was also a joy to share the wonders of camp with the new families.  I hope the day impacted them in such a way that they avail themselves of the opportunity to attend camp.  

I know from experience that it will enrich their lives.  I believe it is our responsibility as "seasoned/more experienced" parents to share with others our experience, strength and hope that, even in the darkest moments, it does get better.  We can live joyous, Jewish lives and be embraced by those who completely understand, through good times and bad. 

We are a blessed community.  I am personally grateful to this program for continuing to create this space and place for us.  It's the camp experience which I credit for teaching me that, although raising my son has been my greatest challenge in life, pushing me well beyond my limits, that it has also been my greatest teacher.  My son has taught me what really matters in life -- love, patience, acceptance, understanding, kindness and resilience, plus much more.

You're Invited! Special Needs Conference!

Everyone in God's Image: 

A Conference on Inclusion and 

Disabilities in our Jewish Community

SUNDAY MAY 3, 2015
8:30am - 4:30pm 
at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Community Day School
800 Foster City Boulevard, Foster City


Advanced: $18
At the door: $36

Join the Facebook group!

 . Inspiring Conversations . 
. Illuminating Breakout Sessions . 
 . Parallel Programs for Kids . 
. Childcare Available .


Click Here for More Details

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

One Experience at the Sensory Friendly Purim Carnival

Read what one parent had to say about her son's experience at a Purim Carnival and the impact INCLUDE made:

I would like to thank you so much for making the sensory friendly Purim Carnival.  That wing was a life-saver. It was our first time at that Purim Carnival and I did not realize how intense the main rooms were.  They were very crowded, very loud, the lines were long and the children were very excited.  It was actually overwhelming to me--there is no way we could have had a successful experience without the sensory friendly wing.

Thanks again,


Many Thanks

Read a testimonial from one of the participants from the Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion workshop,  Assessing Your Inclusivity: Best Practices & Ways to Improve.

Hi, I attended today's first of four Include sessions in Oakland today and I am thrilled by the experience. Before my work week sets in motion, I want to thank you and the other leaders for providing us a well organized and meaningful experience to address the complexity of diversity in our Jewish communities. It was immensely inspiring to realize that throughout the Bay Area Jewish congregations are striving to improve their efforts towards inclusion.  I am far less isolated and far more optimistic as a result. I hope to attend future sessions. Please pass on my email and gratitude to the other leaders: David, Diane and Marilyn.

-Leslie King
(Beth Am)

We want to thank the individuals and the institutions who were present at the Navigating Difference workshop on February 23rd. 

Special Needs Family Camp Weekend 2015

INCLUDE presents the 14th Annual Special Needs Family Camp Weekend 2015

Friday, May 8th - Sunday, May 10th

Register here

Experience personal, family and spiritual growth in an inclusive, caring Jewish environment.

At camp, families will celebrate Shabbat together, learn together, sing, dance and have fun together. You'll find a welcoming community of families having similar experiences who will become your friends for life.

Activities include: outdoor games, Alpine climbing tower, arts and crafts, hiking, swimming, yoga, music, and talent show.

Kids: Make new friends and challenge yourself.

Parents: Relax, share common experiences and receive support.

If you have questions about the weekend, please call Cheryl Cohen, Camp Director at (925) 922-0765 or email

View the full brochure

After you register here at Eventbrite, you will receive a confirmation with additional information about payment options as well as a complete family camp packet by mail and email.

Moving the World from Awareness to Inclusion

From David Neufeld, Director of Special Needs Programs and Services

A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical.  But the Holy One, blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique.  (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

As I sat, enjoying the INCLUDE Tu B’Shevat Seder last month, I was struck by one particular aspect of the ceremony. In a traditional Tu B’Shevat seder, we eat three different types of fruit—fruits with one large inedible pit or seed (e.g., dates, olives, avocados), fruits with many small edible seeds (e.g., carobs, figs, blueberries), and nuts or fruits with inedible shells or peels (e.g., almonds, bananas). We drink fourdifferent cups of grape juice: one that is all red, one that is mostly red with a little white, one that is mostly white with a little red, and one that is all white.

What struck me about this tradition is its celebration of difference. Each type of fruit or cup of grape juice is equally delicious, and each is equally important to the integrity of the seder. Just as this is true in a Tu B’Shevat seder, it is true in the larger Jewish community. We are blessed to have many different kinds of people in the Bay Area—people with different appearances, different traditions, different strengths, different challenges, and different learning styles. Judaism tells us that each of these people is equally important.  Each member of our community matters. A common thread among us - our desire to learn and to connect with one another.

While the Jewish community has made strides towards successful inclusion of many different types of people, there is still work to be done. Despite our best intentions, too many families with children with special needs have felt unwelcome—they have been looked at strangely when their child has a meltdown during Shabbat services, told that our educational programs are not able to support the needs of their children, or had to leave a community event because the environment was too overwhelming for their child’s sensory system.

However, with increased awareness, knowledge and resources, more and more Jewish institutions across the Bay Area are investing in their ability to welcome everyone through their doors. They do this in many ways: providing professional development opportunities for their teachers, inclusive holiday programming for their congregations, developing support groups, chavurot and more.  

February is National Jewish Disability Awareness Month. We at Jewish LearningWorks, along with many of our community collaborators* are celebrating difference through many different programs. Between ourJewish Disability Awareness Month events, our Navigating Difference, Embracing Inclusion workshop series (a groundbreaking collaboration starting on February 23rd), our Special Needs Family Camp weekend and more, we are working every day to improve and extend Jewish learning to those who have had to live without it for too long. We are challenging ourselves to shift our attitudes, to recognize that having a disability is part of the human condition, and to see that humanity in each person we meet. Jewish Disability Awareness Month is recognized in February; the need to belong goes on month after month, day after day.Thank you for being a part of this holy work.

*our community collaborators include: The SF-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Friendship Circle, Rosh Pina, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Celebrations!, Be’chol Lashon, InterfaithFamily, Keshet, our INCLUDE North and South Peninsula partners, and many others.

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.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. We are proud to join the nation in raising awareness and promoting and supporting efforts to foster meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in Jewish communities worldwide. To that end, INCLUDE (a partnership of Jewish LearningWorks and the SF-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund) Rosh Pina, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum are co-sponsoring several free events around the Bay Area. See the Bay Area Inclusion Events page for the full list. 

The goal of Jewish Disability Awareness Month is to shift our attitudes to see that having a disability is part of the human condition-and to see that humanity in each person we meet. Jewish Disability Awareness Month is universally recognized in February, but the need to belong and be included goes on month after month, day after day.