This is the fourth and final in a series of blogs written by members of Keshet’s community for Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. Two students and friends, one from Keshet High School and one from Ida Crown Jewish Academy were interviewed for this blog post. This interview was conducted by Keshet’s Inclusion Facilitator Lori Zisook.
What was your first experience with inclusion and how did you get involved with Keshet?
Chana Rifka, Keshet Student: I started 4th grade in the Keshet classroom at Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov and then transferred to Keshet at Solomon Schechter, where I graduated 8th grade with my Schechter friends. Our graduation was outside and my family got to take a picture with me under a balloon arch and it was fun. Now I am a part of the Peer Buddy program at school where I get to spend time with my Keshet friends and Ida Crown friends. The ICJA kids come to my classroom and we play games and talk. I can’t believe I’m already an 11th grader!
Audrey, ICJA Student: I went to Hillel Torah from Kindergarten through 8th grade. We did not have a program there for students with special needs so I started to volunteer in some private Jewish programs to learn more and help out. This led me to become interested in the Keshet program at Ida Crown beginning my freshman year. I now have expanded my volunteer roles to doing respite care and other things I love. I’m now a senior and very involved in the Keshet Peer Buddy Program. I am one of the Peer Leaders and one of my favorite parts of the day is walking around the school, or coming to the Keshet wing to see the smiling faces of my friends.
How did you two become friends? What do you like to do together?
Chana Rifka, Keshet Student: Audrey and I met in the Peer Buddy Program. When I got a cell phone for the first time this year, I put Audrey and all of my other friend’s numbers in my contacts and now we talk and text a lot and it’s so much fun. We are even making plans to get manicures together and go out for lunch or dinner one day.
How has going to a Jewish school shaped you?
Chana Rifka, Keshet Student: What I love about going to school at Keshet is that I can eat Kosher food from the cafeteria. I also love to be able to daven at school. I love learning Jewish values like helping others. Hashem teaches me to help people and say nice things about others.
Audrey, ICJA Student: Being Jewish is so important to me because my family has always instilled Jewish values in me, my two sisters, and my brother. We have all been involved with Keshet and various other Jewish organizations. After graduation, I hope to go to Israel for a gap year and then go to fashion school on a partial scholarship. I’ll definitely be back to visit my Keshet friends whenever I’m in town.
What does inclusion look like at school? What have you learned from one another?
Chana Rifka, Keshet Student: The best part of being in this school is talking to my Keshet and ICJA friends during the day. I really like going on day trips, overnight retreats and being in the fashion show with the Ida Crown girls. I’m going to wear a dress that is special to me, and Audrey gets to introduce me at the show! One of my friends told me I was trendy and pretty and that made me feel so good.
Both: What we both have in common is that math is our hardest subject in school. Luckily, we get to use calculators and sometimes even use one for addition and subtraction!
Audrey, ICJA Student: I’ve always been in the lowest math class, and that’s okay. The class that I struggle with the most is statistics. We all struggle with something, and all that matters is that we’re working at our own pace and styles. The beauty of being a Keshet or Ida Crown student is that at the end of the day, we are ALL learning real life skills so that we can have bright futures!
What does Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion month mean to you? How do you practice this all year long?
Audrey, ICJA Student: To me, Jewish Disability Awareness Month is 12 months a year. It’s a Jewish value that has been instilled in me from a young age by my schooling and my family. I view all people, including those with disabilities as individuals with feelings, needs and wants, just like anyone else!