By Lisa Friedman
I often think that I am the exception to the rule.
Why do people choose career paths in inclusive education? In my experience, more often than not, the driving force is personal experience, most typically with a family member. But surely there are other reasons. While creating a better path for someone that we love is a powerful motivator, the story of those who choose this path for different reasons should be no less meaningful.
However, I recently came across this tweet from someone at a conference to empower leaders in the field of Jewish disability inclusion. “@4JewishIncludes: Nancy Weiss: How do people end up in this field? No one at age 10 says I want to do this work! Family member w/disability.”
I have to be honest…I was outraged! Ok, it’s only 140 characters, so I need to cut the tweeter some slack, but did a conference presenter really say that “no one ends up in this field?” And that if someone does, it is ONLY because they have a family member with a disability?
My story is so different.
At the age of seventeen my parents gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and it truly was a life-changing experience. I spent six weeks of the summer between my junior and senior years of high school participating in NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) Urban Mitzvah Corps, an intense summer program designed to “provide participants with an authentic opportunity to explore their Jewish identities through the lens of social justice and tikkun olam (repairing the world).” Participants choose jobs sites and volunteer for three weeks at a time. I spent three weeks at Camp Daisy, a day camp for children with developmental disabilities, and that was it. I was hooked. My track was set.
I went on to Rutgers University to master in Psychology while pursuing certifications in both special and elementary education. I worked for six years in a public school district renowned for its special education programs and I remained focused as I received my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. When I turned to the world of Jewish education, where I have been for the past thirteen years, I brought with me the passion for and dedication to those students who need support & creative approaches to learn successfully.
I did not end up in a career in inclusive education; it was a conscious and deliberate choice that stemmed from an experience that sparked my passion.