Next fall, Ilan will be enrolled in The Shefa School, a new Jewish day school created specifically for students with language-based learning disabilities. Shefa (which means “abundance” in Hebrew) will open its doors in September, in space rented from Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. At the moment the school is just empty white rooms, with small, colorful plastic chairs stacked under a drop cloth on the synagogue’s second floor. But Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the founder and head of Shefa, is excited as she shows a visitor the large balcony that looks over traffic rushing up Amsterdam Avenue and will soon host playground equipment and the congregation’s sukkah.
The school will open with two mixed-age classes of 10 to 12 students each who are in the second to fifth grades. Each class will have two special educators teaching as well as help from a speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist. The plan is to grow into a school spanning kindergarten through eighth grade.
Despite the steep cost ($48,500), about 50 families have requested applications, and Shefa has offered spots so far to about a dozen pupils. Many of their families are suing the New York Department of Education in an effort to get reimbursed for the cost of tuition.
For all the relief the parents of new Shefa students will feel, some people committed to helping children with disabilities get a Jewish education say that inclusion – not segregation – should be the goal. The Ruderman Family Foundation, based in Newton, MA, has spent $10 million over the past decade working to make Jewish day schools in Boston inclusive and supportive of students with learning disabilities.
Read more about the Shefa School at Haaretz.