A lifetime of achievements

By identifying needs and filling them, the Greenbergs demonstrate social involvement that creates new realities and transforms lives.

By SUSAN DE LA FUENTE
May 25, 2017 11:32
Aliya

Herbert and Barbara Greenberg. (photo credit: DR. HILTON DAMELIN)

 
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Barbara was only 19 when she married fellow Brooklynite Herbert Greenberg, 22, whom she had met three years previously when both were counselors at a Jewish day camp in Far Rockaway. When they married in 1964, Herb had just graduated from college, whereas Barbara had another year to go.

Herb started teaching in a new program for children with disabilities in the New York City public school system.

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Though he had no background in this field, he subsequently acquired two master’s degrees in school administration and special education, while Barbara followed suit with advanced degrees in special education and in speech and communication disorders.

Already by the late 1960s the couple had become concerned about a serious lacuna.

“It was apparent to us that Jewish children with disabilities weren’t receiving any Jewish education,” Barbara explains.

In response, they conceived “a nebulous idea of a summer camp network” for youth with cognitive and behavioral impairments.

They began to investigate how to mainstream some developmentally challenged youth into regular Jewish camps while providing support services.

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“The only movement that showed any interest then was the Conservative movement and its camp system called Ramah,” she continues. Even there, fears were voiced that the camps would incur additional expenses, and that the parent body might object to the inclusion of challenged teens. Nevertheless, after one Ramah camp director responded enthusiastically, hailing the program “a Jewish moral imperative,” the Greenbergs set about recruiting campers with special needs aged 13 to 18. Recruitment began during the 1969- 70 school year.

Barbara, home on maternity leave, made 300 phone calls, drawing consistent blanks as she approached synagogue offices.

“We don’t have anybody like that in our synagogues,” was a typical response.

Only when approaching nondenominational organizations where unaffiliated Jewish parents often played active roles did she finally recruit eight campers for the pilot project.

“None of these kids had ever experienced a bar or bat mitzva,” she notes.

Though the Tikvah program was now launched and proceeded to develop beyond expectations, the Greenbergs encountered many challenges during their first two summers at Camp Ramah in upstate New York and during their initial two summers in New England. The Greenbergs explain that though their goal was “to give these kids a sense of belonging, we had to fight to be included in many activities and to obtain medical treatment for our kids.” They had to sensitize some of the staff, including Israeli counselors, to show warmth and sympathy to the special-needs campers.

Ultimately, however, the process of accepting the other produced gratifying mutual benefits, enriching campers from both ends of the spectrum, as well as staff.

The Orthodox movement caught up with the idea of inclusion a little later than the Conservative movement.

In the 1970s the Greenbergs moved to Westbury and began teaching in the Nassau County school system. They were busy for 29 summers (1970 to 1998) directing Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program for developmentally challenged youth in New England, aiming throughout for social inclusion and integration. They stressed values such as love of Israel, respecting parents, and giving back to the community. Besides social and religious values, skill building gained prominence. They held seminars for parents during the summers.

The Greenbergs’ professional training taught them “to identify new needs and introduce new components to the program.” Accordingly, in 1993 they launched Tochnit Avodah, vocational training for participants aged 18 to 22. The group, which stayed at an apartment-like complex, was employed for a few hours each morning at job sites throughout the camp.

Their training involved working in food services, in the supply room and in hospitality. In 2006, a new guest house named for the Greenbergs was dedicated at Camp Ramah in New England, with the dual purpose of providing vocational training for youth and guest facilities for camp staff. It was a great achievement when some Tikvah graduates learned to hold down jobs.

As the years passed, the Greenbergs began to wish for a lighter schedule.

They visited Israel and even led seven tour groups of Tikvah graduates there starting in 1984, while both still worked full-time. They yearned for more time with their children and grandchildren.

Son Seth, daughter-in-law Ilene and family had settled in Ra’anana in 1992, while daughter Gabie, husband Danny and their family followed in 1993.

In preparation for aliya, the Greenbergs organized a group in New York, Chug Hayovel, (under the auspices of the Tehilla organization), which held informational monthly meetings for potential immigrants over 50, whose needs obviously differed from younger families.

“It existed until we ourselves, the youngest members of the group, came on aliya,” they explain.

“We felt after the 29 summers that we spent at Camp Ram a h that we were carrying on our shoulders the trials and tribulations of many families,” Herb says, describing that gratifying but emotionally taxing period. It included “an ongoing involvement” with the parents of Tikvah participants, who were concerned over the future of their children.

A new reality now existed because of improved medical care.

“Many Down syndrome kids we worked with are now in their 50s and 60s.”

When the Greenbergs came to Ra’anana on early retirement in 1999, they were fully able to enjoy their family and pursue hobbies. In their first years here they conducted 10 interviews with Holocaust survivors, emphasizing spiritual resistance. Barbara’s favorite hobby is painting watercolors and she attends classes in Jewish studies at Matan. Additionally, they tutor English at a local high school once a week, have audited courses at Bar-Ilan University and enjoy travel.

“With regard to special education, we have always felt that special education is simply excellent regular education,” they say in summary of their life’s work, noting that 420 special-needs children now attend 15 Camp Ramah Tikvah programs.

Despite all of their social involvement, they adhere to their motto that family is paramount, declaring, “Everyone has heard us say that we feel truly blessed to have such a wonderful family, all of whom love and respect one another, all living here in Israel, and we never take any of these factors for granted.”

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