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Living the Chai Life

Strategies for Coping with the Social and Emotional Challenges of Pediatric Illness

Baltimore Raven’s Jacoby Jones Throws a Lifeline to Cancer Patient

Baltimore Raven’s Jacoby Jones Throws a Lifeline to Cancer Patient

Football became too dangerous for Coby when he was diagnosed with cancer. Rather than let his football dreams die when he was told that he would have to stop playing in the league he loved, volunteers from Chai Lifeline, the international charity dedicated to helping sick children and their families, fulfilled his greatest dreams: playing with Baltimore Raven’s wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones and cancer patient Coby get ready to toss the football at a game organized by volunteers for Chai Lifeline.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones and cancer patient Coby get ready to toss the football at a game organized by volunteers for Chai Lifeline.


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Jacoby and Coby played a competitive game with some of Coby’s best friends and Chai Lifeline volunteers. Coby wore his JONES jersey, and Jacoby Jones wore his custom-made (JA)COBY jersey.
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There’s no question that Jacoby Jones is a hero on and off the football field. But there’s no word on who won the football skirmish, which was played at Carroll Indoor Sports Center in Westminster, MD.

Getting Your Kids Into the Game

Getting Your Kids Into the Game

Most of us recognize Title IX as the shorthand for Federal regulations requiring schools to provide equal access to sports to women. But do you know that similar regulations mandate that children in schools that receive federal funding have equal opportunities to participate in all activities, including sports and extracurricular programs?
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 In theory, this means that schoolchildren can’t be left out because of physical or cognitive disabilities. In reality, inclusion takes understanding and work on the parts of families, schools, community sports leagues and sports facilities.  
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Sports and group activities are an important outlet for all children, regardless of health or abilities.

Sports and group activities are an important outlet for all children, regardless of health or abilities.

 
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Many times, children who are ill or who have disabilities end up on the sidelines simply because no one knows how to include them or because they fear that inclusion will be expensive, intrusive, or uncomfortable for healthy children. Sometimes, talking to coaches, teachers, and other parents can help ease the way for a disabled athlete. Be prepared to stand your ground, though. PGA pro Casey Martin, who suffers from a degenerative nerve disease, went all the way to the Supreme Court to assert his right to use a golf cart in tournaments.
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Remember that some sports activities are easier to integrate. Disabled athletes can use prosthetics during swim meets or hand cycles during bicycling events without impacting other children. Team sports require more cooperation, but isn’t what we’re trying to teach children when they play together? If you encounter resistance (and even Casey Martin’s pro-colleagues groused when he needed a golf cart), ask dissenters to remember that sports are supposed to be fun for children. It isn’t – and shouldn’t be – all about winning. Offer to speak to classes and teams about inclusion. Many times, the kids get it before their parents. They feel good about helping someone else feel like part of the group.
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If your child needs more assistance than your school or town can give, there are organizations that specialize in everything from adaptive skiing to therapeutic riding to running marathons.  Disabled Sports USA is a good place to start. The New York City Sports Commission lists NY State resources, including adaptive playgrounds; other states may have similar guides.

Physical activity promotes cardiovascular and physical strength and increases range of motion and physical activities. These are as important for sick children as healthy ones. Most important, mastery of a sport or activity (at any level) helps children feel good about themselves. The self-confidence and esteem will transfer to other areas of their lives. So encourage all children — healthy, ill, or disabled — to have fun!

How Does Your Synagogue Welcome Your Child?

How Does Your Synagogue Welcome Your Child?

This is the time of year when Jews spend a lot of time in synagogues. And when parents are in shuls and temples, so are their children. Or are they?
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 Unfortunately, many houses of worship are less than welcoming to young members who require wheelchairs or other medical equipment. There’s the physical challenge of getting into the building or the sanctuary: small rooms, old buildings built before ramps were required, women’s sections in balconies that are inaccessible and/or a lack of elevators can make it impossible for any but the most able-bodied to enter. (Children aren’t the only people in wheelchairs. Elderly men and women who use walkers and wheelchairs can also be “locked out.”) In my synagogue, a young woman who is blind requires not only a chair to sit in, but a place for her Braille prayer books (which come in a set of 23 volumes for the High Holidays) and a lectern to place them. Not every synagogue has that amount of real estate to spare.
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 A recent blog post from the Ruderman Foundation noted that children who attend camps for the ill or disabled often return home to a world where they are once again on the sidelines. Those whose families attend services on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and/or the festivals of Sukkos and Simchas Torah sometimes feel a keen disconnect between the inclusion of summer camp and the world of the synagogue, which ideally should offer a haven to all. The Ruderman Foundation has built partnerships and provided grants to organizations of all denominational and non-denominational stripes to foster the inclusion of ill and disabled children and adults. But changes, whether physical or attitudinal, can be slow.  

How was your child welcomed into synagogue this year? What were the positives? What could be improved? What would you advise your rabbi or board about making the synagogue an easier place for ill children and their families to navigate?

 P.S. Here’s something to start your synagogue board thinking: low cost ways to make synagogues more welcoming to the disabled.

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