Jewish educator Jen Saber started July 1 in a new Coalition for Jewish Learning role – Kesher inclusion specialist – that aims to help the Jewish community meet the needs of all students, including those with disabilities or special needs.
Saber said synagogue schools are filled with students with different learning needs – some with an official diagnosis and some without. The Jewish community must educate each student, she said.
Kesher started as a pilot program funded by Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Education Innovation Grant. “It was so successful that we decided to make it a formal part of the Coalition for Jewish Learning,” said Jewish Education Community Planner Tziporah Altman-Shafer, who leads the Coalition.
Saber was assisting students and Jewish educators at two synagogues on the Milwaukee area’s north shore, Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun and Congregation Shalom.
Her role is now to be expanded to the larger community, on behalf of the Coalition for Jewish Learning, which is a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Her services are available for students, teachers and families at all synagogue schools in the community. She’s not implementing this program for Jewish day schools because they already have robust programs, Altman-Shafer said.
Public schools typically have Individualized Education Plans or 504 plans for students with disabilities. Saber is keeping confidential files with similar information for students attending Milwaukee-area religious schools. She creates an individualized plan for each student. This helps her work with parents and teachers to ensure that needs are being met.
Saber said that as a parent of a child with needs at Mequon schools, she knows where parents are coming from. Parents can get worn down trying to advocate for their children in other spaces, so synagogue can fall by the wayside. Saber wants to reverse that for parents.
“I’m here to connect the dots,” she said. “I’m a sounding board. I’m a safe space.”
She has decades of synagogue and Jewish educator experience. Saber is already teen philanthropy coordinator for Milwaukee Jewish Teen Philanthropy, which is also a Federation initiative, and to that she’s now adding Kesher inclusion specialist.
“Not only is every child different, but every school is different,” Saber said. “Parents usually appreciate being asked about how to meet those varying needs.”
Altman-Shafer noted that the word “Kesher” means “connection.”
“This program is a connection among school, teachers, parents and children,” she said. “If you have a child with special needs and you’re hesitating about sending them to religious school I hope that this resource will make you more comfortable in enrolling your child.”
If you’d like to find out more about the Kesher program for your family, ask your synagogue or contact Jen Saber at 414-390-5700 or JenniferS@JewishMilwaukee.org.
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What: Inclusion Panel: Making All Our Students Feel Welcome, part of LOMED Professional Development of the Coalition for Jewish Learning – open to all, not just Jewish educators.
Who: Guest speakers Rabbi Joel Alter, Rabbi Hannah Wallick, Jen Saber and Chelsea Cross.
When: Tuesday, Aug. 24, 7-8:30 p.m.
Where: Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Whitefish Bay, or via Zoom.
RSVP and submit questions: TziporahA@MilwaukeeJewish.org