Coach: Michele Rifkin
Social Media: Facebook
Press: Jewish Exponent, Jewish Learning Venture
My venture seeks to fill an existing gap, i.e. many religious and day schools and Jewish camps require tools and knowledge to successfully support children with special needs. It appears that many religious school directors and staff often have limited familiarity with the strategies being utilized with these same children in their ‘secular’ educational environment. Many parents of children with special needs often become frustrated with Jewish institutions and find ways to ‘opt out’. This eventually leads to decreased engagement with Judaism for these children, as well as their parents. That is where my services come in—to support Jewish engagement for the child and family. It is more cost effective for a parent or an institution to pay for a limited amount of on-site consultation to help make environmental adaptations, utilize sensory and movement strategies, create behavior plans or visual schedules, or work directly with a child (i.e. providing direct therapy on-site at a Jewish day school or camp). Instead of being on-site all year, which is more expensive, I can provide Jewish learning institutions across the Delaware Valley with the tools to become more inclusive using shorter term support. I started working with my first synagogue recently. Azar has recently merged with Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion program.
About the Founder
I originally moved to Philadelphia to attend graduate school in occupational therapy in 1999 and have remained here ever since. I participated in Tribe 12 activities during my single graduate student days, and my husband Barak and I attended couples-only dinners after we were married. Our son Julian arrived in 2004, and our daughter Sophie was born three years later. Shortly after migrating to the suburbs, we joined a small Conservative synagogue. I consider myself Jewishly engaged. I also love what I do for a living– promoting independence in self-care, educational and leisure activities for children with special needs. Occupational therapists focus on the ‘job’ of living, on ‘occupations’ such as feeding and dressing oneself, playing and interacting with peers, writing and using a computer, just to name a few. For children (and adults) who struggle to use their eyes and hands cooperatively, who might be overwhelmed with the daily barrage of sensory information from the environment, engaging in meaningful activity requires tools, strategies and adaptations. It is the intersection of Judaism and occupational therapy that brings me to the Tribe 12 Fellowship. I have always felt strongly about cultivating my own Jewish identity and ensuring my family’s full participation in the Jewish community. I feel that all people deserve the opportunity to be fully welcomed and supported by their faith communities. However, this is not as simple a proposition as it sounds for families whose children have special needs.