The Friendship Circle Hebrew School provides children with special needs a quality Judaic program that teaches the Jewish way of life. The mission is to educate children about the richness of their Jewish heritage and to instill pride and selfassurance in their identity as valued members of the community.
Before starting this one-of-a-kind program, Jewish families found no opportunities for their children with special needs to attend a Hebrew school. And yet it is imperative that all Jewish children have access to a rich and meaningful Jewish education.
In the 1970s, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson urged people to view children with special needs not as children with problems, but as children who can contribute to society in their own unique ways. “They have a very strong connection to Jewish rituals, Jewish teachings and traditions, even more than mainstream children, being exposed to Yiddishkeit is exciting for them,” he said.
The Sunday morning classes for children ages four to 13 are not like typical classrooms. The Jewish rituals, customs, liturgy and music are strong motivators, and when presented in a classroom environment that is conducive and respectful to various learning styles, our children with special needs thrive. By building in the opportunity for inclusion with the other Hebrew school classes, both sets of children will benefit from increased acceptance, stimulating environments, improved cooperation and tolerance of others.
Through active learning, the five senses are engaged. Students smell and taste traditional Jewish foods, they create models and art projects, they role play, read aloud and sing songs to learn about Jewish customs; they learn about Jewish living, holidays, prayers, mitzvoth, blessings and Hebrew.
Utilizing the Aleph Champ methodologies, which are based on Chabad Chassidic philosophy, the program follows the ancient traditional method that believes a child’s spiritual development mirrors the physical.
The classes are taught by special education professionals and have a one-to-five teacher-to-student ratio. Each child is also accompanied by a special Friendship Circle volunteer who provides friendship, assistance and one-to-one individual attention. Parents are encouraged to also work with the teacher to ensure the child’s needs are being met.
The benefits of attending Hebrew School go far beyond learning about Jewish roots and practices. Religious school lays a strong foundation and teaches morals, values and ethics not taught in other educational settings.