In last week’s paper, my family enjoyed the final article in “A Season of SINAI Stories,” an uplifting piece by Esther and Jacob Schlanger, who accompanied their daughter Tamar to the marriage canopy in 2017. Tamar, who married Chaim—both SINAI alumni—famously gave new meaning to the term “Saw you at SINAI.”
As I read the article aloud to my 10-year-old daughters last Friday night, they were thrilled at the descriptions of Tamar’s dream wedding, including the white stretch limo that whisked Tamar and Chaim to and from the ceremony. In my daughters’ world, Tamar’s wedding was just like any other aspirational grown-up event about which they have learned. Thanks in no small part to SINAI, this wedding was filled with wonderful mazel and bracha just like any other, and it made no measurable difference to my daughters that the two people getting married had special needs. They were excited to be “included” in Tamar and Chaim’s simcha.
In fact, inclusion, the normalization and acceptance of those with special needs, is a hallmark of SINAI’s vision. As with SINAI’s many other articles this season, SINAI has brought our readers along on the journeys their students have faced. With humor, understanding and honesty, these articles have been both powerful and persuasive in communicating the challenges that families with special needs face, in an effort to raise awareness and meaningful donations to support SINAI’s transformative education programs.
The culmination of the “Season of SINAI Stories” is, as has become the norm for SINAI’s annual dinner, a presentation in the form of the film.
This year’s film, titled “Journeys,” will premiere this Motzei Shabbat, February 20, and will stream on SINAI’s website thereafter. (There is no online dinner or timed event this year.) Due to the complexity of making media during the COVID era, Abigail Hepner Gross, SINAI’s director of communications as well as the writer and director of this year’s documentary, created the new film by combining new footage with material from earlier SINAI films.
The film has two parts: In the first, it introduces four SINAI students, and shows the students as they entered SINAI, enumerating the four very different people they were as they arrived. One had ADHD, which was causing him to act out; one had learning disabilities including profound hearing loss; one had Down syndrome; and one had learning delays after surviving a rare and aggressive childhood cancer. The second part, filmed this year, checked in with these amazing, vibrant and engaging young people—now alumni—and their parents, circa 2021.
The four students clearly faced immense challenges as they began their educations, and their journeys to reach where they are today are as different as we all are. What they have in common is that their journeys included SINAI—and the value their parents found in SINAI’s uniquely special education programming.
The message of “Journeys” is consistent with all of SINAI’s other powerful films: What parents and community members appreciate most about SINAI is that it has the depth and capacity to truly help students with a wide array of special needs.
I learned something new by watching this film: Like my daughters enjoying the details of Tamar’s wedding, each SINAI student has the capacity to inspire others with their unique personalities and engaging character traits. In “Journeys,” I hope you will find your own inspiration from the stories of these magnificent SINAI alumni.
Watch the premiere of “Journeys” at http://www.sinaistories.org, or on social media this Motzei Shabbat.
Elizabeth Kratz is the editor of the Jewish Link.
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