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A Warm Welcome

My parents tell me that when I was born they decided that they were never going to let the fact that I had Down Syndrome keep me from being a fully included part of the Jewish community in Los Angeles. 

From the time I was 3 years old, I was in a regular classroom at Yeshivah Ohr Elihayu. My parents say that they approached the principal, Rabbi Shlomo Goldberg, ready to convince him that it would be great for the school to have a student with Down Syndrome. But he surprised them by telling them that he had already decided that was true before he even met them! My parents would hire a one-on-one classroom aide to work with me every year and, with the help and support of the Etta Israel Center, an inclusion coordinator to make sure that everything was going smoothly. 

Most of the time, it was a great experience for everyone, but my parents tell me that, as we grew older, there were times when the girls in my class didn’t understand why I was a little different and we would have to help them. We always would say that people with Down Syndrome are more the same than different and that having Down Syndrome means that it sometimes takes me longer to learn or do something. By the time we graduated 8th grade, the girls in my class were all my best friends and some of them still are today! Everyone at Ohr Eliyahu agreed that having me and other students with developmental disabilities in the school was great for everyone. The other kids, teachers and parents learned that people with disabilities are like everyone else and the kids with disabilities learned how to be a regular kid.

My parents also put me in regular dance and gymnastics classes when I was a little girl. It turns out that I am a really good dancer and gymnast and I continued to take lessons in both thoughout my school years. 

In high school at Bais Yaakov Los Angeles  I was also fully included. And that was a great experience, too. I especially loved performing in “Halleli”, the big production that Bais Yaakov puts on every other year. I tried out for dance and got to be a part of one of the dance numbers! It was so much fun and, thanks to all my dance and gymnastics training, I was able to keep up with the other girls and even do a cartwheel (I do a really good cartwheel) as part of our routine!

Another place where I have always been included is the synagogue. My parents are members of Aish HaTorah, but many of my friends go to Young Israel of Century City, so around 5 years ago I started going there instead. I walk to shul myself every Shabbos and last year I became a member. 

Now that I am working (at Ohr Eliyahu again…as a classroom aide and in the school office), I find that being included in the Jewish community is easy! I participate in many of the fun activities of Yachad, an arm of the National Jewish Council for Disabilities, which provides weekly social inclusive programming in the greater LA area. 2 years ago, I was asked to join their Board, along with other young adults both with and without special needs. And I still love dance, but now I do zumba 2-3 times a week with many of my friends. I have a very busy social life with friends, both with and without disabilities. We go out to dinner, shop at the Grove and dance at our friends’ weddings. In fact, I hope that one of these days everyone will be dancing at my wedding! 

Danielle Magady is 21 years-old. She lives a pretty typical life with her parents and 2 brothers in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood of Los Angeles. She has Down Syndrome.

Jewish Federation Los Angeles believes that everyone in our community should have the opportunity to experience and celebrate our shared values, history and traditions. Making Jewish life more accessible for all is one of our top priorities, which is why we are part of a national effort to raise awareness about members of the Jewish community with disabilities. Go to www.jewishla.org/Inclusion for more information.

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