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West Hartford Rabbi Participates in Innovative Matan Institute Program

Rabbi Ilana Garner

Rabbi Ilana Garber of Beth El Temple in West Hartford is taking part in a program to help support children with special needs.

Rabbi Ilana Garner

Rabbi Ilana Garner


Beth El Temple’s Rabbi Ilana Garber was one of 15 rabbis and educators from across the country who came together for the first in a year-long Matan Institute program to help synagogues and synagogue schools better accommodate children with special learning needs.

The 15 participants were selected based on their readiness to implement change in their congregations and their desire to commit to the entire program. Matan’s mission is to assure that all children have access to excellent Jewish learning and that special needs do not become barriers to full participation in Jewish learning and living.

Matan, which was named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’15-’16, received funding for the Institute from the Plevan Family, in memory of their son and brother, Jeffrey.

Two out of every ten Jewish families face the challenge of raising a child with special needs. Many of these parents believe Jewish education is not an option for their children. In its 16- year existence, Matan has received hundreds of inquiries from parents, educators and communal leaders seeking support, materials and training.

“I am raising a child with special needs – my own son who has Fragile X Syndrome – and I am also serving as a resource to many other families,” notes Rabbi Garber. “As a rabbi I hope to lead by example, to advocate for Jewish special education and to bring it into every realm of our synagogue, religious school and even the greater community. My son loves attending synagogue and he thrives in religious school. I want that for all of our children.”

Beth El Temple. Submitted photo

Beth El Temple. Submitted photo

In 2015 Beth El completed a year-long education strategic planning process designed to create a caring, supportive, joyous atmosphere for all children to learn. As part of the process, the school brought in a special needs consultant on-site and paired para-professional teachers and aides with special needs students. All teachers received training to enable them to more effectively work with a variety of student abilities. Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation was redesigned to proactively speak to each student’s particular needs. “The Matan program will enable our synagogue to take this work to the next level,” explains Rabbi Garber.

“The Jewish community can no longer pretend that this is not a significant issue,” says Dori Frumin Kirshner, Executive Director of Matan. “We brought together professionals from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania and Matan staff will continue to provide support to them over the next 11 months. These professionals will return to their 4,000+ students and begin to show families that the Jewish community is listening. This is bigger than a conference; this is a movement.”

 The two-day kick-off program featured a keynote address by Jonathan Mooney, author of The Short Bus and Learning Outside the Lines. Matan staff presented on such topics as differentiated instruction, communicating with families and developing proper systems to understand various students’ needs.

About Matan

Matan’s mission is to ensure that every Jewish student has access to a meaningful Jewish education and that one’s special needs never become a barrier to full participation in Jewish life. Matan educates Jewish leaders, educators and communities, empowering them to create learning environments supportive of children with special needs, through training institutes and consultations across North America. For more information, visit www.matankids.org.

About Beth El:

Beth El Temple is an egalitarian congregation affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The synagogue strives to create, sustain and strengthen Jewish unity and continuity through personal involvement in meaningful worship, ritual, learning and social action. Located at 2626 Albany Avenue, West Hartford, Connecticut, Beth El Temple is home to worshipers who live throughout central Connecticut. For more information, contact Beth El Temple at (860) 233-9696, visit www.bethelwesthartford.org or the temple’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bethelwh.

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