08 February 2018
In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, Federation’s Disability Inclusion Specialist Lisa Handelman sat down with our colleague Jacob Werbin, a member of the Federation team whose life has not only been affected by inclusive programming in our community, but who has helped shape the future of inclusion in Greater Washington.
About 20 years ago, Amy Blum was looking to send her son Jacob, who has Down Syndrome, to a Jewish Day School. Amy had expected challenges throughout her search, but she never expected the absolute lack of options for her son’s Jewish education. That’s when Amy founded Sulam, a Jewish educational nonprofit housed in Greater Washington’s Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, offering individualized education for kindergartners through 12th graders with mild to moderate learning disabilities. She chose the name Sulam, the Hebrew word for “ladder,” from the story of ‘‘Jacob’s Ladder,” to represent children climbing towards success. Amy’s priority for Sulam is that students with learning disabilities are educated alongside their Berman peers.
This open, inclusive Jewish environment has been the guiding thread throughout Jacob’s life. From his school years at Sulam and summers at Jewish camp to his travels to Israel with Berman and his recent crowd-pleasing performance during the opening act at the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes’ (JFGH) annual gala, Jacob is an active and productive member of the Greater Washington Jewish community.
For the past five months, Jacob has worked at The Jewish Federation as part of an internship with the JFGH Sally and Robert Goldberg Maryland Meaningful Opportunities for Successful Transitions (MOST™) program. Jacob is participating in the one-year, post-high school, transitional program designed to prepare individuals with disabilities for independent, self-sustaining adulthood with real world professional experience.
Three days a week, Jacob ensures every coffee station at Federation is clean and fully stocked. He reloads all the copiers with paper, organizes materials in storage rooms and works on his computer. When he’s presented with a new project, he willingly answers, “I’m down for it!” Jacob’s can-do attitude provides a positive spirit that every office space appreciates and a productive pace that every employer seeks.
As a single, individual example of ideal inclusive participation in Jewish life, we look to Jacob’s story aspirationally. The model aspect of Jacob’s involvement in our community is not simply the benefit that he receives, it is the collective advancement that we all gain from integrating the strengths of every member of society.
As a community convener, Federation facilitates mutually beneficial partnerships between employers and potential employees. If your organization is interested in exploring inclusive employment opportunities, reach out to Federation’s Community Disability Inclusion Specialist, Lisa Handelman at [email protected] or 301-230-7278.
During JDAIM, join us to celebrate Jacob’s story as we continue to aspire towards meaningful inclusion in all areas of life throughout the year. Read on for the full interview between Lisa and Jacob to learn more about our colleague.
Lisa: Where did you go to school?
Jacob: I went to Berman Hebrew Academy. I liked learning math.
Lisa: Do you still like to practice math today?
Jacob: Yes, I like to do math for my relaxing time.
Lisa: I don’t know many other people who like to do math to relax – that makes you very unique! What else did you like at Berman?
Jacob: At Berman I did some volunteer work. I volunteered at the library, organizing books in alphabetical order. For fun, I played in the gym with a lot of my friends.
Lisa: You participated in the Sulam program at Berman. Can you tell me about that?
Jacob: My mom started the Sulam program a few years back. She started it for me because she liked me to learn with others.
Lisa: So you got to learn with friends from Sulam and friends from Berman?
Jacob: Yes, both. Still today I’m friends with them on Facebook.
Lisa: Did you get to go to Israel with Berman?
Jacob: Yes, I went in 9th grade. It was fun! We got to see the dead sea and I went to the Kotel.
Lisa: Why do you think they take people to Israel? Why is it important?
Jacob: Because it’s good to know your heritage.
Lisa: You’ve been to Jewish overnight camp too. You went as a camper and eventually you worked at camp, right?
Jacob: Yes, Camp Ramah and Camp Palmer. I had an interview for a job in the mailroom organizing mail.
Lisa: What do you think of your work at The Jewish Federation?
Jacob: I love it. I like my job. When I get here in the morning I put my stuff down, then I go to sign in. I do the coffee, then I fill the paper and I work on the computer.
Lisa: We think the work you do here is really important. Why do you think it’s important?
Jacob: Because I love being on the team. People are friendly. I have a mug with my name on it and a desk. I go to staff meetings.
Lisa: Were you surprised when the staff threw you a birthday party last week?
Jacob: Yes, I loved it. I was excited.
Lisa: What do you plan to do after your internship with Federation?
Jacob: Get a full-time job.