by Asher Matthews, Temple Sholom

As a songleader at my synagogue, my one-on-one interaction with students is limited, and so I have to be creative in order to find ways to make a positive impact. With that being said, by recognizing that obstacle for what it is, a challenge, as opposed to a setback or roadblock, I have been able to find ways around it. I’ve found countless methods to make an impact on students without talking to them directly just by embracing the challenge, and TAP has helped me to learn that connecting with students with disabilities doesn’t have to be any different.

With TAP, not only have I learned best practices and practical understandings of how neurodiverse minds can operate, but I gained a greater understanding of reaching out to all students. Focusing on different disabilities and challenges at each session, I learned how to recognize the emotions a student is attempting to express, I learned how to effectively and helpfully communicate with students with autism, and I learned how to help students compensate for things they struggle with by focusing on their strengths. This, of course, is a limited list of the things I learned during my time in TAP.

At the very first TAP session, we read several excerpts from the Torah. One verse, Leviticus 19:14, resonates especially. The verse reads, “Thou shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but thou shall fear thy God: I am Adonai.” Understood literally, this verse commands not to take advantage of those who are disabled. Understood in a greater context, though, I believe this verse of Torah commands us to go further than merely not creating roadblocks to accessibility. It instead commands us to be proactive. Not just to “not put a stumbling block before the blind” but to actively seek to remove stumbling blocks that may exist. To look for opportunities to create accessible options when other neurotypical or not otherwise disabled people might not see that accessibility is lacking.

TAP has taught me how to both support students in need as well as understand the significance of my support in a Jewish context, and that is knowledge that I will forever carry.