During my senior year at Brandeis, I felt an unshakable yearning to study Torah in Israel before I begin rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. As I settled into life in a Jerusalem yeshiva, I realized that my Torah learning would not be complete unless I found a volunteer program through which I could serve the Jewish people on a tangible level. For me, Jewish spirituality is not contained to the synagogue or beit midrash, but only really comes alive in the service of others. Invigorated by the summer I spent working with the special needs program at Camp Ramah New England, I was eager to develop my passion for Jewish special needs education. Shutaf was the obvious choice.
My first few weeks of volunteering at Shutaf were overwhelming. Working in special needs is always challenging, but limited by my fairly basic Hebrew vocabulary, I was worried that it would be impossible for me to genuinely connect with my students and fellow counselors. Over these last few months I’ve found my worry completely dissipated as I’ve grown into a welcoming community of incredible and fun loving children and an equally inspiring staff. I often feel as though the language barrier is completely irrelevant, and I’m amazed to be able to form friendships with the children on a much deeper and more meaningful level. Whether we are dancing and singing, doing puzzles, or making freshly squeezed orange juice, the joy and fellowship of the Shutaf community shines through and makes our whole day brighter.
Working with Shutaf has made me more passionate about special needs education than ever before. I can’t wait to bring the knowledge, experiences, and friendships I have gained at Shutaf to other communities as I continue along my path toward the Rabbinate.
By Jaxson Dermer