In a time that seems to be all about division, it is striking that so many people are talking, writing about, and acting on the idea of multiplication.
No. Wait. Just checking to see if anyone is paying attention. So.
So. It’s striking that so many people are talking, writing about, and acting on the idea of inclusion.
Last Sunday, the Sinai Schools held its annual dinner, where the work of its dedicated teachers, therapists, administrators, and visionaries (who fall into all those categories) is showcased. We also heard from parents and students, both in extraordinarily moving videos and in person, in speeches of such wisdom, depth, and grace that it would have been impossible not to have been made wiser, deeper, and more filled with grace ourselves, at least for a few minutes, just by hearing them.
Sinai’s lessons are clear. We are not all the same. Sometimes the differences between us hurt. Some of us are born luckier than others. But each of us has something to offer, and sometimes the hidden jewel is more splendid than the ones out in the open. And sometimes it isn’t.
If there is anything we learn from Sinai it is that there are no pat answers. Every child is different. Every person is different. The way to get through to someone else is to look past the barriers, and to talk to that person as he or she actually is, not as he or she should be, or might have been, or used to be, or could have been.
And we learn that inclusion demystifies. It’s far easier to fear something or someone you don’t know, and far easier to mock from a distance than close up. It’s hard to remain stone-faced and stone-hearted when you are in someone’s presence.
Not only do Sinai students benefit from their placement in Sinai classes in larger schools, so do the students in those schools. It’s not the cliché “Oh, I got so much more than I gave!” It’s a real thing; you know it’s true when you see students with special needs with their typically developed peers. Inclusion demystifies.
We also see inclusion at work with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, as it reaches out to the cities of southern Hudson County and those cities reach back. There are differences between urban and suburban life, but the pull of Jewish community is more important. We know that the new places the federation has added will bring new excitement, vitality, and sparkle to the federation, just as the suburbs will add its experience, knowledge, and green open spaces to the cities.
We are living through a period of increased anti-Semitism now; the larger culture around us, egged on by its successful politicians, encourages wall-building in many ways, physical and metaphoric. Perhaps we should fight it counterculturally, but working for inclusion, for broadening our catchment areas, by overcoming our fears of people who do not look exactly like us.
If Sinai School students, parents, families, teachers, therapists, friends, and neighbors can do it, so can the rest of us.