A Continued Vision
'A Sense of Belonging' from page 15
but, to me, it's important to have a sense
of belonging and that they are part of the
And that community is all-inclusive.
"Every building has a different phi-
losophy," she said. "We don't go in and
change the makeup of the school, so we're
able to serve all the denominations, from
Humanistic to the Orthodox."
Josh Rosen, 7, is a second-grader
at Quarton Elementary School in
Birmingham. The special-needs student
lives with his mother, Laura, father, Mark,
and sister, Marissa, 5.
"Last year we wanted him to go to
Hebrew school at Shaarey Zedek," Laura
said. The Doors program "arranged to have
someone in the class with him to tend to
"Anita came to Quarton and watched,"
Laura said. "Then she went to Shaarey
Zedek the whole day and modeled for the
teacher how to get him focused and to stay
A teacher was assigned to him every
Sunday, and it was very successful.
Josh has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder and some features of Asperger's
Syndrome (autistic-like behaviors and defi-
ciencies in communication skills).
"He likes Sunday school, and singing
with the rabbi," his mom said. "They've just
made it really easy for him"
Susie Citrin, chair of Federation's Special
Education Committee, said many other
communities don't have similar programs
for kids with mild disabilities to be main-
streamed into the Sunday schools and day
16 November 30 s 2006
school programs. A few communities do
have programs modeled after Naftaly's.
"Parents are desperate to have their child
fit in and be a part of the community:'
Citrin said. "This program really helps them
Two other AJE programs help kids with
special needs: Efshar Sunday School allows
the 10 kids with much graver disabilities
to go to Darchei Torah. Doors to the Future
is a program for preschool children with
All programs are funded by Federation
from a budget of about $120,000 given
directly to the schools for the programs and
the money to pay for Naftaly's staff, said
Rabbi Judah Isaacs, AJE director. The bulk
of the funding comes from the schools,
which hire the teachers, and Naftaly
recruits and places the teachers.
She belongs to the Consortium of Special
Educators in Central Agencies for Jewish
Education, a nationwide group.
Nobody has 18 special educators, she
said proudly. "If it weren't for Federation,
this would have never happened:'
In turn, Rabbi Isaacs said, "The program
that she created and her concern for special
needs kids is paramount in the work she
Doors to the Future started five years ago
with seed money from a three-year grant
from the Jewish Fund, and a two-year
grant from the Mandell L. and Madeline
H. Berman Foundation.
Citrin said, "If you teach a child at a very
early age to behave and ask for help and
shadow them and teach them the right
behavior, you save them a lot of heartache
later on in school."
Jordana Weiss, school director at Adat
Shalom Nursery and Kindergarten, said
she appreciates what Naftaly does for the
Doors to the Future program.
Other nursery school directors told
Naftaly that children could overcome
behavior or motor skills issues in a matter
of months if somebody could work with
"She heard us talking at a meeting
about feeling frustrated, and that there
was a need in the community and a gap in
service, and she just jumped in to see how
she could address that need, and she just
made it happen," Weiss said.
Besides the programs to help children
with special needs, Opening the Doors
also helps educators and parents.
An annual one-day conference with
Judaic and secular sessions brings
together all 22 schools, ranging from the
Orthodox Yeshivas Darchei Torah to the
Secular Humanistic Birmingham Temple,
to help Jewish kids with special needs.
We also do an annual Family Circle
program for the community, she said. The
most recent was a seminar on bullying.
Janet Pont, executive director of the
Shaarey Zedek Family Circle Committee,
said she has the utmost respect for Naftaly.
"You can tell how much her heart is in
the work that she does:' Pont said. "She
will tell us stories of children that have
been helped and you can just see that her
eyes well up with tears when she realizes
the impact that these programs have. She's
always reluctant to take credit, but it's
really been her vision?'
When Anita Naftaly retires at the end of
the month, her "Dream Team" staff, as she
calls them, will take over.
Ellen Maiseloff, Opening the Doors
program assistant, will take over Naftaly's
position; Helene Weiss Kohn, the para-
nator, will move
Helene Weiss Kohn
will remain as
and Ellen Maiseloff.
"I keep telling
her she can stay,"
Maiseloff jokes. "It's like as parents you're
supposed to let your children go off, well,
I'm not letting her go off."
They share the same work ethic, she
"The way we've been able to make posi-
tive relationships with the community
and positive changes have really helped
the program be accepted because it had
to be sold:' Maiseloff said. "A lot of times
the parents are uncomfortable about let-
ting you know about their confidential
situation, and sometimes we have to make
them feel comfortable enough to trust us.
"I was honored for her to pick me as her
successor, to trust me to take over for her,"
she said. "I'm a little scared; it's really her
intelligence, her expertise and her integ-
rity that really makes this program stand
Anita and Robert Naftaly, married for
15 years, have a blended family of four
children and live in West Bloomfield. In
honor of her retirement, Robert, has cre-
ated an endowment to name the Family
.Circle program after Anita. One gradua-
tion story a few years ago at the Shaarey
Zedek high school program for a dozen
kids explains why.
"Every kid was given a few minutes to
talk about the most important thing about
the program," Robert Naftaly said. Most of
them talked about their trip to Israel and
seeing the Kotel.
According to Naftaly, one young man
got up there and said, "I have learning
disabilities. I never thought I could stand
here in front of the shul. I never thought
I could have a bar mitzvah. I thought I'd
haVe to run away," the kid said. "But Anita
Naftaly sat down with me and said we're
going to do this and do this together. And
because of her, I had a bar mitzvah. And
because of her, I stayed on after bar mitz-
vah; and that's why I'm here today."
Hundreds and hundreds of young boys
and girls have benefited from this pro-
gram over the years, Robert Naftaly said.
"It's a mitzvah what she's done. She is a
woman of valor." 17i