I often say that inclusive education is like Passover food, because acceptance is a critical component of doing either well. When we think of ‘Passover food’, less-than-appetizing approximations of leavened products tend to come to mind: ‘Rolls’ made of potato flakes, ‘cookies’ made of matzah meal, and ‘cereal’ made of something akin to sawdust. Similarly, when we think of inclusive education, sometimes the first thought is of children with disabilities making less-than-fruitful struggles to approximate the actions of their typically developing peers. In both cases, the missing ingredients are creativity and acceptance.
On Passover and in inclusive education, we do much better when we’re open to doing things differently. It’s ok to be unable to eat chametz — there is a whole world out there of cheese, fruit, fish, meat, chocolate, and meringues. If we spend all of our culinary efforts approximating chametz, we don’t often succeed – and we miss out on all the delicious things that acceptance would allow us to create.
I am a rabbi because I stopped attempting to overcome my disabilities. By accepting the way my body works, I was able to start working with it rather than against it. When I gave up on handwriting once and for all, I gained the ability to take notes and write worthwhile papers. When I learned that no amount of willpower would give me the ability to sit still, I gave up and focused on learning. When I realized that my voice was never going to become normal, I gained the ability to speak up in class without shame.
Disability acceptance allowed me to stop making my life into a Passover cookie. As an educator, I work to give others the same chance, and I hope that you will join me. When we tell our story at the seder table this year, we need every Jewish voice in the conversation.
At Matan, we have resources that can help make this happen: A seder printable: This Seder Visual Schedule allows participants to see at a glance what’s happening and what to expect. Organized by cup, it also makes the structure of the seder easier to understand. This can make the seder much less overwhelming and much more interesting. A Passover webinar: “Including all four children”, which will explore both text and concrete methods of inclusion. Register here.
The Matan Institute for Education/Youth Directors: This is a year-long training program for directors looking to take the next step in school-wide inclusion. More information here.