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Students Display Their Work

Self-Expression Through Art: SINAI Schools Special Needs Students Display Their Work

By: Abigail Klein Leichman
for The Jewish Standard/Times of Israel

Jewish students with learning or developmental disabilities got to express their artistic talents for the benefit of the Sinai Schools scholarship fund last Monday in Teaneck.

More than 70 original artworks — from sunsets and self-portraits to animal and abstract motifs — were created by 60 7- to 16-year-olds during art therapy sessions at three Sinai locations. The artworks were framed professionally and displayed at an open student art show and sale at the Avenue, an event space.

The third annual “Unique Inspirations” show served many purposes: Giving Sinai students a platform for showing and selling their artworks, helping additional families access Sinai’s inclusive special-education schools and programs for adults, and raising Sinai’s profile in the North Jersey community. The evening raised nearly $3,500.

Each art therapy participant from Sinai’s programs at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge and the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston chose two or three finished projects to donate to the show, Sinai art therapist Sarah Tarzik said.

“Our art therapy program is designed to help children express themselves in different ways, sometimes in ways that come more naturally for children who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally,” Ms. Tarzik said. “It gives them a voice to share their inner world — whether they’re conscious of it or not — and it relaxes them and helps them engage with peers.”

Ms. Tarzik works with students all year on two- and three-dimensional artworks executed in a variety of media, including clay, oil pastels, acrylic and tempera paint, and wood.

“It really empowers them when they see they’re able to create something they never thought possible,” she said. “They’re extremely proud to show work that they feel very connected to, that represents something personal about themselves, and they are excited about being in the spotlight as others look at and buy their work.”

Unique Inspirations is a development of the EmpowerArt program created by Bear Givers, a New York-based organization that “provides children in need with opportunities to feel the pride and joy of engaging in acts of kindness and generosity.”

EmpowerArt provides an opportunity for children with special needs or illnesses — who are constantly in the position of receiving — to showcase their artwork in a professional gallery setting for the benefit of their schools, hospitals, and other programs.

“The empowerment program is for kids who are usually recipients to experience the joy of giving,” Bear Givers founder Joe Sprung of Manhattan said.

Mr. Sprung began his organization as a vehicle for donating teddy bears to hospitalized Israeli children in 2003, but the focus evolved as he witnessed the emotional rewards the children earn from giving. He began exhibiting artworks made by children in a special-needs school in the art gallery of his Manhattan company, JBS Financial Services.

“I thought, ‘Why not have a show where they could be recognized for their talent?’ And for parents to see their kids’ art displayed in a gallery setting is wonderful,” he said.

Mr. Sprung became acquainted with Sinai when he was president of Chai Lifeline and organizing basketball marathon fundraisers for this international Jewish organization, which offers family-centered programs, activities, and services for children with serious illnesses. Longtime Sinai supporter Michael Blumenthal asked Mr. Sprung to participate in a basketball marathon for Sinai several years ago.

“I like how Sinai is an inclusion school,” Mr. Sprung said. Sinai houses its special-needs school and its students within existing yeshiva day schools, including RYNJ, Kushner, Torah Academy of Bergen County, and Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls. “We reached out to them to see if they’d like to participate in our programs. This is our third show together.”

Sinai Dean Rabbi Yisrael Rothwachs said the Paley-Mironov art therapy program was instituted several years ago to provide an alternative means of expression for many students who struggle with language-based disabilities.

“I knew in theory that art therapy was an excellent therapeutic tool, but I never could have dreamed how successful it would be, or how much it would mean to our students,” Rabbi Rothwachs said.

“Art therapy has opened a window into the complicated thoughts of our students, many of whom are suffering silently but who discover art therapy as an outlet for their feelings. Through art therapy and Sarah Tarzik’s talented therapeutic methods, we have gained a better understanding of what our children are thinking and feeling, allowing our other therapists and teachers to address these issues throughout the day. We are so grateful to Steven and Laura Paley for establishing this program, and for continuing to support it.”

Steven Paley called the evening “a home run,” and said that he was very gratified to see how the gift he and his wife gave is making a difference.

This story originally published by The Jewish Standard on June 12, 2015.  See the full article at