SINAI Schools, a special-education yeshiva day school that runs its programs inside existing day and yeshiva high schools, shatters stereotypes about children with disabilities. Students weighed down by profound learning challenges have become glowing, inspired, college-bound students. Students facing immense physical challenges have had the support they need to blossom, enjoy school and look to their bright future. Students facing intense cognitive challenges have benefited from the steady, constant presence and love of teachers and therapists to help them reach the next level, at their own pace. SINAI works with all such children, and many more.
SAR will be joining SINAI this fall as its seventh partner school, joining Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy / Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, Torah Academy of Bergen County, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School and Heichal HaTorah. SINAI functions with “inclusion by design,” meaning that students are included in the workings of their partner schools in as many ways as possible during the school day. Even if it’s just lunch with friends in the cafeteria, it’s important to function as part of the community. SINAI students, as well as the students from their partner schools, benefit from the interaction and the friendships forged.
On February 25, the SINAI annual dinner will honor well-known Riverdale residents Chazzan Shim and Ruthie Craimer, who have taken on a special role in supporting SINAI in its move to SAR, where they are active members of the SAR community. “Ruthie and I feel humbled to be honored by SINAI Schools. We felt it was very important to help shine a spotlight in our neighborhood and beyond on the important work SINAI does, and what an enormous benefit SINAI will be to our community when they arrive here this fall,” said Shim Craimer.
“For years, students from New York City and its suburbs have been traveling to New Jersey to benefit from SINAI’s groundbreaking special education. Finally, SINAI will become a part of our New York community, and so many more children will be able to receive the quality, inclusive special education they need,” Craimer added.
Also being honored is SINAI at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy alum, Yaakov Guttman, who shares a fascinating story about coming to SINAI at the age of 10. He considers it to have been an important step on his journey to an elite unit in the IDF and now as a firefighter in Tel Aviv. He is the subject of this year’s SINAI Schools documentary, which always debuts (and is a high point) at the annual dinner. Watch the trailer of “Walking Through Fire” now at https://tinyurl.com/yal25xc5.
The move of SINAI across the Hudson River to the Bronx is particularly monumental for SINAI Schools’ staff. “For decades, we’ve had students travel to our schools in New Jersey from all five boroughs of New York City,” said Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Rothwachs, dean of SINAI Schools. “They’ve traveled long distances in order to access the unique inclusive special education that SINAI provides. Especially for our youngest students, the commute can be very difficult. In response to demand, we decided it was time that we established a school closer to home for our New York students,” he said.
Aura Lurie, a longtime teacher of students with special needs at SAR, is the new director of SAR at SINAI. “Since beginning my work in the world of special education, I had a dream to start a Modern Orthodox day school for children with more complex disabilities. It always broke my heart when parents had to leave SAR for a secular special-education setting. After working at SAR for 11 years, the culture of openness and inclusiveness is part of my core beliefs. When I heard that SINAI was partnering with SAR, I knew I needed to be part of it,” she said.
“SINAI and SAR make perfect partners, and I can already see how we will be working together to serve those children who would otherwise fall through the cracks. SINAI and SAR both believe that every child has a unique spark, and both focus on a child’s strengths while working with teachers and families on how to best work on his or her weaknesses,” Lurie added.
“At SINAI, the students have a wide range of challenges, including complex learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, social/emotional disorders and cognitive disabilities. While SAR provides various levels of support from its support learning center to its inclusion program, there are children for whom that simply isn’t enough, who require much more individualization and perhaps additional therapies. At SINAI, the professional to student ratio averages 1:2, and the classrooms average between five and nine students, with two to three special-education teachers. For academic learning, children will work in even smaller groups or one-on-one with a teacher, based on their individual needs in each subject,” Lurie said.
“I am so excited that my dream is now becoming a reality and that SAR Academy, the school that I love, where my own children attend, will be part of continuing SINAI’s mission of educating our children. I have been busy meeting with families and enrollment has begun for September 2018. We have also begun to hire talented and dynamic teachers and therapists,” said Lurie.
Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, SAR’s head of school, is also looking forward to the addition of SINAI Schools to the SAR landscape. “I visited RYNJ and was very impressed by the integration of the program with the school. We have always tried to be an inclusive school, tried to serve the community and vice versa. We have always tried to expand our reach with the inclusion program we started about 10 years ago, which focuses on language-based learning disabilities,” said Rabbi Krauss.
However, while it has been positive, SAR has not hosted a full-scale program for all students with disabilities. It’s been a challenge, Rabbi Krauss said, that parents in Riverdale, Westchester, Scarsdale or White Plains have not been able to send their kids to the school they wanted. “It was exciting for us to explore, as SINAI fits with our mission of being inclusive, and when we were not able to be inclusive that was hard for us.”
“This is a real program that has heft. Aura understands the work as having been an inclusion special-ed teacher. Our teachers are so excited,” said Rabbi Krauss.
“I do think that our mission is to be able to reach every Jewish child and to be able to service them, and SINAI will be able to bring us one step closer to welcoming everyone who wants to be here,” Rabbi Krauss added.
“SAR Academy in general, and Rabbi Krauss in particular, have been overwhelmingly welcoming to SINAI. By partnering with SINAI, Rabbi Krauss is enabling Jewish children to get the quality special education, services, and supports they need all within the walls of SAR, remaining in the same school as their brothers and sisters,” said Rabbi Rothwachs.
Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, head of school at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, in Livingston, where SINAI was founded 36 years ago and still thrives today, addressed how his school has benefited from SINAI as a partner, and discussed how schools such as SAR can benefit from SINAI. “The SINAI-Kushner relationship models and inspires respect for all learners and recognizes the value of the other; the Kusher-SINAI relationship demonstrates that ‘everyone is the other.’ In a natural, seamless, organic way, students interact with one another who benefit from sharing. They appreciate the value of an expanded community,” Rabbi Rubin said.
“SINAI’s partnership has enabled us to create a culture of kindness in the school based on mutual respect and admiration,” he noted. He also said that on a second level, faculty from SINAI add to the Kushner staff by sharing observations about student learning. “We benefit a lot from having SINAI faculty as part of our larger faculty; and also SINAI faculty benefit from our larger community of teachers. The administrations of both schools share the same values and collaborate on many issues,” he said.
“SINAI students participate in many of the co-curricular programming of the school. They find their voices in drama or performing arts, develop their talents in sports and are full partners in our school’s success,” Rabbi Rubin added.
“For SAR, we are thrilled that SINAI is expanding its reach at SAR—to continue its mission to help students find their voices to become active and contributing members of society,” Rabbi Rubin said.
“We are so proud of SAR for entering into this partnership, for truly committing to the notion that every child deserves a quality yeshiva education. SAR means so much to our family, and we feel strongly that this partnership with SINAI will profoundly benefit students of both schools. We want to do everything we can to help ensure that it is successful,” Craimer added.
For information about SINAI Schools, including information about how SINAI works with parents to make SINAI affordable so that they can make a decision based solely on what is best for their child, please visit www.sinaischools.org or call 201-833-1134.
By Elizabeth Kratz