My Perfect Internship

11053271_10152737475253441_5953663643612746229_oAs a recent college graduate, it’s a pretty standard thing to do an internship. A lot of people my age do internships to get experiences in various different fields that they are interested in possibly working in one day. It’s really not a rare thing.

What is rare, however, is to find the perfect internship. And let me tell you- I can say, without hesitation, that my internship experience with Shutaf could not have been more perfect. From the work I was doing to the people I was working with, everything was simply awesome.

Here are my top 5 reasons why Shutaf was such a perfect internship:

1) The staff at Shutaf is top-notch. I had the experience of getting to work with some really inspiring people, who all have such a passion and dedication to the work that they do day in and day out. I remember coming to the first staff meeting on a Tuesday morning and being a bit nervous. How do I suddenly incorporate myself into this organization that is already running so smoothly without me? My fears were relieved from the very minute the meeting started, as everyone on the staff was so welcoming and eager to hear my opinions on various topics.

2) My big project at Shutaf was so much fun and so rewarding! I had the chance to coordinate, for the first time, a team of runners to run in the Jerusalem Marathon in support of a more inclusive Jerusalem. It was a big task, but I was excited for the challenge! I’ve often heard friends complain that at their internships they weren’t given substantial, long-term projects. This certainly wasn’t the case for me!

3) Flexibility. As someone traveling in a new country, participating on a Masa program, and dealing with lots of constant schedule changes, flexibility was crucial. And at Shutaf, I found from the start that the staff was, thankfully, so flexible. I worked most directly with Elizabeth, the Director of Outreach and Education, and she always available by phone, email, text message, you name it! If I had a work conflict, she helped me figure it out. If I needed to come to the office a bit late she happily said “no problem” with a smile.

4) The kids and teens and Shutaf are simply awesome. I’m really going to miss seeing their faces every Thursday (and sometimes Tuesday) afternoon. Even with my limited Hebrew, they were eager to engage in conversation, learn more about me, tell me about their weekend adventures. They’re really just a great group of kids, each with such unique personalities. So full of life, so enthusiastic and willing to try new things, even things that may be scary and difficult at first.

5) Shutaf, as an organization, has the power to change the world, and I really do mean that. As I’ve said so many times to so many different people, Shutaf is a model of inclusion for the entire world. Read about Shutaf, visit the program, hear from volunteers, listen to personal stories and you’ll be amazed at just how flawlessly Shutaf works. I’ve learned so much from Shutaf and now’s the time for me to pass it on.

Written by, Rebecca Cushman, who interned with Shutaf from October, 2014-March, 2015. She was originally a participant in the “Real Life Israel,” Masa affiliated program.

Shutaf: The Best Place To Be

In one room, four pre-teen girls closely followed the complicated sequence of Zumba steps their teacher, Lisa, was doing in time to the music.  In an adjacent room, a small group of children, aged 6-13, sat in a circle petting a variety of animals brought in by Aryeh, a staffer from Jerusalem’s Nature Museum who has worked at Shutaf for many years.  One boy finally worked up the courage to pet a rooster (more than I could do); another stoked the soft fur of a white a rabbit; and others carefully held guinea pigs, and other tame animals.  Downstairs in the gym, under the supervision of a gym teacher, two teams were engaged in a spirited obstacle course-type relay race involving running, balancing on a beam, and aiming a basketball into a net.  A preteen unable to run due to a back injury, participated by serving as the timekeeper with her Smartphone.  But, winning or losing didn’t really seem to matter; it was all about being in the best place to be for having fun, socializing, cooperating, and getting exercise.

Marci, the Program Director of Shutaf’s informal, inclusive education program had been giving me a tour of the inclusive afterschool activities held two afternoons a week at the Jerusalem YMCA.  It was important for me to see and appreciate first-hand one of the Shutaf programs in action.

Arranged by Skilled Volunteers for Israel, I was a volunteer from the U.S. for a month. Thus far, I had been spending my time working at the Shutaf office alongside Beth and Miriam, the organization’s founders; Marci and Yoni, a staff professional), with Elizabeth, the Director of Outreach and Education, and Rebecca, another volunteer from the U.S.

Meeting four days a week at the office, we collaborated on key issues: program planning, grant writing, and program assessment.  We clarified ideas about each program’s goals and objectives (for the after school program at the YMCA), camp programs (the week before Passover and for three weeks in the summer), and the different units specially designed for the teens.  For example, we documented what had occurred during a teen unit on going to a restaurant, and another on sex education.  We listed the ways in which these units resulted in a positive impact on the teen participants.  For the restaurant unit, we discussed how the teens succeeded in learning appropriate restaurant behavior, how to order, and what it meant to converse over a meal.  We worked on formulating and refining plans to share with current and future donors, to ensure that they would understand and financially support Shutaf’s many, valuable programs.

I have come to appreciate that no matter where you may be—at the YMCA, at camp, taking a field trip with the teens, or working at the office with extraordinary colleagues—Shutaf is the best place to be, not only for the program participants, but also for a volunteer.

Thank you, Shutaf!

Judith Zorfass, February 24, 2015

P.S. And the extra bonus for me was that it was the best place to be for the month of February—who cared about a Jerusalem snowstorm (we had much, much worse back home in Boston).

judyz (1)Dr. Judith Zorfass is currently a senior advisor to a project funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs and a supervisor of special education student teachers for Lesley University.  From 1986-2014, she directed over 25 federally-funded projects at the nationally-recognized organization, Education Development Center. Her work focused specifically on literacy development, special education, and technology implementation. She has conducted research studies, developed curriculum, created software, designed and conducted online courses and webinars, designed websites, and carried out professional development. In addition to authoring the book, Helping Middle School Students Become Active Researchers, she has written book chapters and journal articles. She frequently presented at national conferences.  Dr. Zorfass received her doctorate in reading and language development from the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.  She has been delighted to be visiting Israel from Boston for the month of February, volunteering at Shutaf in Jerusalem.


Shutaf Volunteer: Jaxson Dermer

The following is a guest post by Jaxson Dermer.

Jaxson DermerDuring 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.