SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - February marked the 10th anniversary of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled/JSDD’s WAE Center in West Orange. To celebrate the occasion, the organization commissioned “Chairs of Inclusion: A Seat at the Table for Everyone,” an art show featuring ten unique chairs by ten artists to promote inclusion for all. Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) in South Orange, a community known for being inclusive, exhibited one of the chairs during the month of February in honor of Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month.

To bring home the lesson of diversity and inclusion to its religious school students, the Reform synagogue went a step further.

“I wanted to connect our seventh-grade students to this project in a meaningful and constructive way,” said Mindy Schreff, director of TSTI’s religious school. “A conversation with Carol Paster, director of early childhood education, sparked an idea: To create ‘chairs of inclusion’ for our preschoolers who use a cube chair.” The square, high-sided chairs provide physical and emotional support for youngsters who need to feel more secure.

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Paster designed and crafted the components for five cube chairs, which the students decorated with symbols of inclusion under the guidance of several WAE Center artists (WAE stands for Wellness, Arts & Enrichment.)  The students studied Jewish texts about inclusion, listened to a meditation on the subject, and then created artwork that was collaged onto the chairs.

“It was a wonderful collaboration from start to finish, and we were thrilled our seventh graders produced something both useful and beautiful,” said Schreff. “The chairs are now an integral part of the preschool classrooms and are a visual reminder of how TSTI continually strives to meet the needs of every person in our community.”

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a vibrant Reform congregation located at 432 Scotland Road in South Orange, N.J. The school offers Jewish preschool, Religious school, teen programs, lifelong learning for adults and a full complement of religious services and cultural programs each month. TSTI serves member families from many areas throughout Essex County.

Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled of MetroWest, Inc (JSDD) is dedicated to providing an integrated program of community education, advocacy and services for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. JSDD strives to maximize the potential of individuals with developmental disabilities and promotes opportunities for their integration into the Jewish and general communities. The WAE Center is an alternative learning program designed to develop skills, cultivate self-esteem and create new possibilities for artistic pursuits, wellness endeavors and enrichment activities.