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Appreciating the Sinai Schools

By: Joanne Palmer
for The Jewish Standard

The thing about the Sinai Schools, the special-needs school we write about this week, is that it’s for real.

It’s easy to make things that aren’t so great, that really are pretty meh, sound better than they are. Words can do that. If you just give everything the benefit of every possible doubt, look on every bright side, climb every mountain, ford every stream, just about anything can sound good.

Often, we — okay, I mean I, but I suspect we is accurate — read stories, reviews, explanations, descriptions of things that are so overblown as to bear almost no resemblance to reality. It’s deflating.

That’s not true about the Sinai Schools.

The thing is that the Sinai Schools really are that good.

To walk around the Kushner building with Judi Karp and Sinai’s communications director, Abigail Hepner Gross — who allows no publicity for herself, but who is not only a Sinai parent but also an extraordinarily good communications director, driven by a real love for the institutions, and is also an increasingly gifted filmmaker — is to watch a master teacher at work.

Ms. Karp knows who all the Sinai students are, and clearly they all not only know her, but also love her.

To talk to Sinai’s other leaders — this time, it was its extraordinary dean, Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, whose kindness is as visible as his competence and passion; his at least equally extraordinary mother, Laurette Rothwachs, who created Sinai and loves it overwhelmingly; and its wonderful managing director, Sam Fishman, whose affect is overwhelmingly gentle but who is ferocious in overseeing the school’s administration — is to understand that this is an institution based on kindness, dedication, love, and commitment to the idea that to be different is not to be disposable.

Many of us have felt different at some point in our lives; not necessarily through having the kinds of special needs that Sinai treats, but for a range of biographical or psychological or physiological reasons.

Through its treatment of its students, through its dedication to demystifying and so destigmatizing differences, Sinai has made a huge change in its students’ lives.

Sinai also stresses honesty. It doesn’t promise what it cannot deliver. Its leaders know that some harsh facts cannot be changed, even if their results can be softened. It just posits that facing the problem directly, being able to accept and talk about it, makes it easier to understand and endure, learn from, and even grow from.

We admire our friends at Sinai for the work they do. All teachers need patience; teachers of special-needs students need even more. But what they give their students — complete attention and understanding, an education tailored to each one’s specific strengths as well as weaknesses — is ideally what every student, and beyond that every person — would benefit from having.

Sinai’s annual fund-raising and celebratory dinner is set for February 26. We hope that anyone who can considers going to it, and also considers supporting Sinai. We all benefit from its success.

To read this article as it originally appeared in The Jewish Standard, click here.