Renee Nussbaum’s thoughtful Aug. 14 essay “A call for inclusion” reveals the unpleasant truth that our day schools really don’t want “those” children. There are Band-Aid programs in all the schools, but there is no coherent philosophical approach to the issue of inclusion. I started the Sinai program in Essex County because none of the day schools in Bergen County were interested. Children with special needs had to be bused to West Caldwell or to New York if they were to receive a Jewish education. My dream was that each school would have a Sinai-type program, because each day school needs a Sinai-type program. And as difficult as it is, congregational schools also need an inclusion policy and program.
I understand full well the economic challenge that this represents. However, the bigger obstacle is the mindset that says children with special needs ought not to be accommodated in our schools. We as a community are very good at coming together in times of crisis. We can hold impressive rallies and raise substantial amounts of money. I do not in any way minimize the broad dangers facing the Jewish people and the country of Israel. But this too is a crisis of major proportions. Every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education.
Students asked the great sage Rabbi Zushe of Anapol why he was crying on his deathbed. Wasn’t he a great scholar, wasn’t he righteous, didn’t he have many students? He responded that he wasn’t concerned about being asked why he didn’t reach the status of the Vilna Gaon, he was worried about being asked if he had reached his potential as Reb Zushe. Every child has potential. We should not disenfranchise any of them.