Tailoring their educational approach

SULAM-LI teaches Jewish culture to special needs children


Dena Stein vividly remembers the day her middle son, Sam, had his bar mitzah. “It was the most incredible thing, he was so excited, he knew he was being bar mitzvahed,” said Stein, adding that Sam made his bar mitzvah on the same day as his younger brother.

Sam, now 19, was bar mitzvahed when he was 15. He is physically disabled.

Stein, president of SULAM-LI for the past six years, believes that the school that educates special needs children about Jewish culture and religion is terrific. “It’s a wonderful program for kids who can’t go the traditional route,” she said, adding that it also helps parents of special needs children connect and assist one another.

Established in 2002, SULAM-LI is a partnership of several diverse Jewish synagogues in the Five Towns and nearby communities, including Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, Temple Israel in Lawrence, Temple Am Echad-the South Shore Congregation in Lynbrook and Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre in East Rockaway, and the Jewish Education Project of New York, the National Council of Jewish Women-Peninsula Section and FEGS. It takes its name from the Hebrew word sulam that means ladder to help their students reach new heights in their Jewish education.

Classes take place on Sunday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon at Temple Hillel with highly trained educators and volunteers who provide a variety of programs and activities to children from 7- to 20- years-old.

The Caring Commission of the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York provided initial funding for the nonprofit organization. SULAM-LI subsists on donations and its own fundraising.

Libby Adler, SULAM-LI’s educational director, thinks it’s not only the school’s programs that help educate the children, but how it’s structured. “It’s the approach, we tailor what we are doing to individual needs,” said Adler, adding that the school not only caters to special needs children across the learning spectrum, but also different Jewish sects. “On top of that there is a lot of experiential learning — hands-on— the arts, music, cooking and storytelling are critical parts of the program.”

SULAM-LI founder Harriet Gefan, the executive director of Congregation Sons of Israel and a SULAM board of director, said the school’s best advantage is that it a collaborative effort that crosses three Jewish denominations: Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist. “There is virtually one-on-one teaching, it’s an extremely comfortable, secure place,” Gefan said. “It really, absolutely fits each child’s needs and they bond with other children in the community and the parents come together.”

On Saturday, March 9, SULAM-LI will hold a fundraiser “Five Towns Got Talent,” where 13 residents will perform. A panel of judges — Kenny Gluck, Stuart Rauch and Jamie Lynn Wysocki — along with the audience will crown the winner.

Tickets for the show ($100 per person and $50 for students) and raffle tickets for a chance to win prizes such as two nights at the Carlton Hotel, tickets to a Yankee game, a professional photographic studio and jewelry are available by calling Stein at (516) 449-6678.

“It’s more fun than your typical Hebrew school,” Stein said about SULAM-LI, “and the kids are learning at the same time.”