The Momentum of Hadassah’s Training Wheels (Al Galgalim) Program
One child’s need for Jewish education became an inspired opportunity for a community to learn in Long Island, New York.
In 1996, my daughter arrived home from secular nursery school with a pseudo-seder (paper) plate carefully covered in paper Passover symbols. There was the egg, the greens, the salt water and, according to my four-year-old, the dog food.
“Dog food?” I asked. We didn’t have a pet.
“Yes,” she said, pointing to the dog-biscuit-shaped shank bone.
It was time for this unaffiliated family to seek out Jewish education.
We found it at Hadassah and Al Galgalim/Training Wheels, its development program for families with young children. And for the next several years this program changed my relationship with my family and the greater Long Island Jewish community.
At first, since there were no more spaces in the program offered by a neighboring Hadassah chapter, I was asked by the president of my own chapter if I would take the training and then bring the program to our Long Island community. It was my first taste of Hadassah as a new member, and I was concerned about whether I could deliver on this commitment. But I was excited, as well.
For a year of Jewish celebrations, a dozen families trooped down to my (then empty) basement to learn, sing, eat and color along with this program. My husband was the beta-tester, experimenting with the proposed crafts the night before each program to determine if he, like the four-year-olds, could tackle them.
My daughter (and tag-along infant/toddler son) learned the joys of Shabbat, the significance of Tu B’Shvat and the inspiration of Shavuot among other Jewish holidays. It was a remarkable experience complete with challah bread, glitter, glue and laughter.
From then on, while two other facilitators in our Hadassah community took up the effort and ran their own series of Training Wheels sessions, I forged ahead with Wheeling On, offering older unaffiliated children, often from interfaith homes, their first taste of Judaism. At the end of the year, the Nassau region president hosted a grand graduation to recognize our efforts. But that was nothing compared to the life change that was yet to occur.
A young parent in our community brought her autistic child to a series of Training Wheels sessions and recognized that the program needed to be adapted for children with special needs. This Hadassah member’s dedication and determination resulted in our forming a unique friendship and partnership. I brought my knowledge and experience working on Al Galgalim while she explained the learning and educational realities of her son and others like him.
Eventually, we found funding and support to develop a version of this program — and not just for Long Island, but nationwide. A grant enabled us to expand the program beyond our original concept, train other facilitators locally and at Hadassah’s national convention, and offer a tangible way to make sure no Jewish children are left behind regardless of disability when it came to Jewish learning.
It was the first time I had ever worked creatively with a philanthropic organization on something that had the potential to touch so many lives. It was a profound moment when the final curriculum was printed and ready for distribution. It was an even more profound moment when it was used in my own community.
In three pilot sessions, three Long Island communities celebrated Chanukkah for Special Needs Training Wheels. My notes from the session I attended remind me how exciting it was: “…I sent greetings from National and Nassau Region of Hadassah on how proud and happy we are to make this holiday, one of ’rededication,’ the starting holiday for Special Needs Training Wheels…Imagine a little boy asking for an extra Hanukkah coloring page to share with his sister. Imagine parents learning how to light the menorah (with the correct candles in the right positions) for the first time! …These parents actually thanked us for making this program possible…”
I feel so fortunate to have been able to develop and complete a project that was bigger than my personal or professional goals. I am grateful to the women of Hadassah in my local chapter, in the Nassau Region and at the national organization for sustaining and encouraging me every step of the way. And I am amazed at the tenacity and resolve I found within myself to meet the expectations of not just one but many parents and children. How fortunate I was and am to be part of the possibilities that are Hadassah!
And my four-year old? All grown up and a life member since her bat mitzvah. As temple school aides, she and her brother were role models for youngsters within the Jewish community. My son went on to represent temple youth at the Union for Reform Judaism’s regional and national conventions. My daughter not only spread an understanding of Judaism among 150 local Girl Scouts by guiding / facilitating their efforts to earn their Jewish awards but went on to become a Hebrew school teacher for over a decade.
And so it goes, round and round, from generation to generation.
Adapted from “The Momentum of Training Wheels (Al Galgalim),”
Thin Threads® Real Stories of Hadassah Life Changing Moments Copyright © 2012
If you have experienced the Training Wheels/Al Galgalim program as a member, parent, youngster or as facilitator trained by Hadassah, I welcome your memories.
Lauren B. Lev is a member of Hadassah’s newly formed Educators Council. For more information, please visit this link.