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

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.

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.


Slingshot Guide Highlights the Best of the Thriving Jewish Nonprofit World

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –INCLUDE North Peninsula, a partnership led by Jewish LearningWorks and the SF-based Jewish Community Federation & Endowment Fund (the Federation), has been named one of 18 leading Jewish initiatives committed to fostering inclusion of people with disabilities in a new supplement to the Slingshot Guide. This supplement will help further expand the ability of INCLUDE North Peninsula to carry out its mission of working with the broader Jewish community to welcome and embrace children with special needs and their families, as well as expand the resources available to volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving.

INCLUDE, a collaboration of synagogues, day schools, JCCs, preschools and other community organizations committed to making their religious, educational, and community programs accessible to all, was selected from among hundreds of finalists reviewed by 83 professionals with expertise in grant-making and Jewish communal life. Organizations included in this year’s disability and inclusion supplement were evaluated on innovative approach, impact, leadership in the given sector of work, and effectiveness at achieving results. One such evaluator praised INCLUDE for its use of “strategic partnerships to maximize resources and avoid duplication of services [while] building capacity within the institutions it serves.”

“INCLUDE is beyond proud to be among the programs in this publication..” said Dr. David NeufeldDirector of Special Needs Programs and Services at Jewish LearningWorks.  “We are equally thrilled to see The Slingshot Guide acknowledge the need for inclusion work in our community and are proud to be among the organizations featured in this inaugural supplement”.  

Added Julie Golde, Director of Grants at the Federation, “The unique and collaborative nature of the INCLUDE partnership is an integral part of what makes the program so successful. The Federation is proud to be part of this important work, as helping to create community that is truly welcoming and accessible for all is core to our values and mission.”

Added Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot, which publishes the Guide each year, “The introduction of the disability and inclusion supplement is an important milestone in the work of Slingshot. All too often, the discussions about disability and inclusion take place quietly only among impacted families and those who advocate on their behalf. We hope this Guide will inspire those who are already part of the discussion, while also bringing new voices into it. It only makes sense to give these organizations the recognition they deserve and in doing so, also boost their presence among volunteers, donor and activists. The Guide is the framework for a community that through the collaboration that results from inclusion in the Guide, becomes something significantly more effective than what each of the individual organizations can achieve on their own.”

Being listed in the Guide is often a critical step for selected organizations to attain much needed additional funding and to expand the reach of their work. Selected organizations are eligible for grants from the Slingshot Fund, a peer-giving network of young donors with an eye for identifying, highlighting and advancing causes that resonate the most with the next generation of philanthropists. Furthermore, the Guide is a frequently used resource for donors seeking to support organizations transforming the world in novel and interesting ways.

About the Slingshot Guide

The Slingshot Guide, now in its ninth year, was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios to include the most innovative and effective organizations, programs and projects in North America. The Guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. The Slingshot Guide has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America's Jewish community – and how nonprofits are meeting new needs and reaching new audiences. The book, published annually, is available in hard copy and as a free download at

About INCLUDE North Peninsula

Approximately 9,000 Jewish children under the age of 18 in the Bay Area are diagnosed with some kind of learning or developmental disability. Despite a longing for Jewish connection, many have felt let down or excluded by the community, mainly because organizations have lacked the necessary support to plan for and serve children with special needs.

Jewish LearningWorks and the Federation believe that the community has a responsibility to welcome and embrace children with special needs and their families. We created INCLUDE to address that need and opportunity:  a collaboration of synagogues, day schools, JCCs, and other community organizations committed to making  religious, educational, and community programs accessible to all.

Working together, we are better able to serve children with special needs and their families. We provide resources and training to educators; we partner with institutions to develop holiday programming designed with the needs of different types of learners and their families in mind; we strive to enable organizations to reach, teach, and ignite a passion for Jewish learning for all participants. .

Our goal is to foster an environment of warmth, acceptance, and meaningful inclusion in the Jewish community for a group of people who have for too long felt like they did not have a place here.

For more information, please contact Director of Special Needs Programs and Services

David Neufeld, Ph.D. at 415.751.6983 x150 or

Unicef Report on Children With Disabilities

From David Neufeld,  Director of Special Needs Programs and Services:

To do inclusion right requires commitment, awareness, and kavanah (intention). Here's a short responseto the recently published 2013 UNICEF Report on Children With Disabilities which lays out the challenge, by Lisa Friedman.

Also, here's an earlier article from Friedman which we posted about the same topic -  What Does Inclusion Mean to You?

Lisa Friedman is a Jewish Special Educator who consults with congregations and offers workshops and trainings about inclusion of individuals with disabilities for teachers, parents, volunteers and students.  She is also the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey; which includes overseeing an extensive special needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa writes about her experiences in Jewish Special Education at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block.