May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

People have their likes and dislikes. Sometimes what we dislike may be rational, based on a past experience or event. Oftentimes our dislikes may just be visceral without any basis in fact, experience or logic. One such example is how people act or react around those with developmental or physical disabilities. This is especially true regarding children who may be developmentally or physically challenged. Possibly because many people have little experience with this population they are uncomfortable, so they avoid any interaction.

In my mind this attitude is intellectually dishonest. Society accepts those who are visually and auditorily impaired with no uneasiness or awkwardness around those who wear lenses, eyeglasses or hearing aids. We’ve gotten better around those in wheelchairs or those who are blind. Those who are severely compromised either physically or intellectually still generate some level of discomfort among many people. That is unfortunate.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (which was passed in 1990) addresses many issues of accommodation for those with various disabilities. However, it takes more than a law to affect people’s attitudes. The Jewish community was late in dealing with this issue but has now embraced it with gusto. More and more institutions are now dealing with these populations, and more programs are now available. This is progress.

When no Jewish schools had programs for or would not accept those with developmental issues, I pushed to start the SINAI program. It took two years of intense lobbying and fundraising, but it eventually started with six children. My goal was for every day school in Northern New Jersey to have such a program. Now over 40 years later, we’re not there yet but many schools have adopted the program.

Physical disabilities are a more difficult challenge, but there too progress has been made. The Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC) is a pioneer in this area, and we only wish there were more programs like it. The school also started a unique and special camp. In order to provide a summer camp experience for these children and young adults (and a needed respite for parents), Camp HASC designed a facility with many special features and a huge staff. The bottom line is that what we as a community need to understand is that every Jewish child is precious. Every parent of a special child showers that child with love. We, too, need to understand that we cannot disenfranchise any child from their Jewish heritage.

That’s the prejudice. Now for the pride, or more specifically, the nachas. My children grew up in a community with some children who had special needs. It was these children from frum homes who were denied entry into our day schools who prompted me to start SINAI. They became friends.

My grandchildren attended summer camps with Yachad programs and there, too, this exposure facilitated a wonderful interaction. One of my daughters currently works in such a camp and uses some of these special campers as her assistants. This summer her daughter is working at a Yachad camp near Albany and her son is a counselor at Camp HASC. These young people have dedicated their summer to working with a special needs population. It is very intensive. Most of my grandson’s campers are severely compromised. It is a 24/7 job. I am so very proud of them.


Dr. Wallace Greene is the founder of the SINAI School and also helped the Door of Hope in Williamsburg operate two dormitories and a sheltered workshop after he convinced the Satmar Rebbi to publicly affix a mezuzah to the door.

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