Chestnut Ridge, NY/Teaneck, NJ—Five years ago, Dvora and Dov Brandstatter partnered with Camp Shalom’s director, Rabbi Yehoshua Gold, to host a swim-a-thon event to raise money for SINAI Schools. Since then, “Swim for SINAI” has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help offset tuition for the families of SINAI, with Chabad Kiddie Camp in Teaneck joining the fundraiser last year.
SINAI Schools provides special education within six Jewish partner schools throughout New Jersey for children with complex learning or developmental disabilities whose needs cannot be met in a regular education setting. The highly individualized programming they create for each child is extremely expensive, and tuition assistance to the parent body is essential for the school’s ongoing success and growth.
Fundraisers such as the Swim for SINAI event not only raise critical funds to help parents in need, but educate a new generation of children on recognizing that everyone is different yet equally deserving of respect, and on the importance of helping others in whatever way you can.
“Swim for SINAI is a beautiful illustration of how individual people can really make a difference,” said Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, dean of SINAI Schools. “Here you have Dov and Dvora, friends of SINAI and community supporters, who came to us with an idea of how to raise money for our schools, and then set everything in motion themselves—all to benefit our students. The swimathon not only exposes the campers to the concept that there are things that they can do easily that other children struggle over, but it teaches them that they can do something to help. By participating in Swim for SINAI, even the youngest children are helping to make a difference,” he said.
With banners, balloons and a table full of prizes, the campers at Camp Shalom were cheered on by volunteers Miriam Motechin and Miriam Kaminetzky on July 5 as they swam lap after lap for SINAI. Camp Shalom even gives a good-natured heads up to their parent body, warning them that sponsoring per lap can become quite costly with these powerful swimmers, and suggesting that they pledge a lump sum instead.
Rabbi Gold, when he is not running around Camp Shalom in his signature red polo, is assistant director of SINAI’s Maor High School at the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in West Orange. He addressed the campers before the swimathon, explaining his connection and his own relationship with SINAI, and making the program a personal event. “I believe so strongly in what SINAI does,” Rabbi Gold told The Jewish Link. They provide an excellent education for children with a range of abilities. Camp Shalom is extremely excited to be able to host this important fundraiser for SINAI Schools in our beautiful pools. We are proud to raise money to help an amazing cause,” said Rabbi Gold.
Chabad Kiddie Camp held their Swim for SINAI event on July 21, with colorful banners placed at the carpool line in the swimathon colors, reminding everyone to participate and drumming up excitement both before and after the event. “Rabbi and Rebbetzin Simon could not have been easier to work with and were so supportive,” said Miriam Kaminetzky, who coordinated the Chabad swimathon. “The Simons themselves are so giving and they continue to teach community involvement by partnering with SINAI for this event.”
“This is a wonderful example of teamwork on many levels,” explained Jenny Gans, who volunteered with the events this year. “Both camps donated their partnership with swim and collecting the pledges. And in a camp the size of Shalom, the office staff spent hours helping with the bookkeeping behind the event. We could not have done this event without them.”
SINAI Schools serves children with a wide range of disabilities—some more obvious, such as social and neurological conditions and developmental disabilities, and others more “invisible,” such as complex learning disabilities. The schools provide individualized programming, highly specialized services, in-house therapies and a 1:2 professional-to-student ratio, placing each child in a class that is both socially and academically appropriate. Because of the extremely high cost to SINAI to provide these individualized services, SINAI relies on the community’s recognition and support.
“Without SINAI, these children wouldn’t have access to a Jewish education, and their needs would not be met in an inclusive Jewish environment,” said Abigail Hepner Gross, director of communications at SINAI. “SINAI is so grateful to the volunteers who coordinated this fundraiser, to Camp Shalom, Chabad Kiddie Camp and, of course, to all of the campers, parents and donors who recognize the need to support our families and to enable us to provide their children with the special education they need.”