When Judy was growing up, famous Zionist leaders would come to her house for meetings with her parents. At a time when women were generally not seen as equal to men, Judy’s teachers at her all-girls school were unusual. They told her, “If you try hard enough you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Following three generations of activists in her family, Sue is especially interested in working on behalf of people with disabilities. She has learned that anyone who thinks outside of the box can make a difference. “Creativity is not just about the arts or dance,” Sue says. “If you like math, there’s lots of ways to be creative in math. If you like science, you can be creative in science.” Sue is passing on her commitment to social justice to her kids, Danny and Lisa.
In 1991, Judy traveled to Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, with the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council to give support to the people in the community. She returned to Dnepropetrovsk several times afterward, and her grown daughter Sue joined her. They quickly noticed that the city was not a welcoming place for children with disabilities. Most kids who had special needs lived in institutions or never left their homes. One parent said, “I never knew my child could learn.”
Together, Judy and Sue found partners in teachers colleges and Jewish organizations around the world to help them start the Educational Resource Center (ERC), a place where families that have kids with disabilities can learn together. Since it first started, the ERC has grown to include a school and a handicapped accessible playground. In 2000, Sue brought home what she learned in the Ukraine, working with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Boston. She was asked to help start Yesodot, an organization that helps Boston-area families find resources and support for children with disabilities.
Many people told Sue that the project in Dnepropetrovsk was crazy or impossible. “I won’t pay attention to them,” she thought. Working with another mother and daughter team from the Ukraine, Judy and Sue helped teach others to accept people in the community who weren’t like everyone else. “Your friends don’t all have to be carbon copies of you,” Sue says. “It’s nice to have friends who are different.”
Sue says the most important thing about her work is seeing the rebirth of a Jewish community. She also feels proud that Jews in Dnepropetrovsk raise awareness about disabilities and set an example for other communities to create equal opportunities for people with special needs.
Sue had her bat mitzvah on a Friday night because, at that time, her congregation did not hold bat mitzvahs on Saturday mornings. She had a party in her basement with all of her friends. She remembers eating and dancing and listening to records—“Which is what we listened to before CDs,” says Sue.
“The biggest Jewish value for me is about social justice,” says Sue. “I really do believe that Judaism has a big tent and that there is room [in the tent] for everybody.”