My darling daughter Talya is a child with disabilities.

When she was 4, I approached the local Jewish school to find out whether or not she might be able to attend. I thought it was a futile gesture; I was expecting a “no.”

“Yes, absolutely,” the teacher replied. You can imagine my delight and surprise!I thought it was a futile gesture

This educator, who had taught for more than 20 years, had no personal or professional experience with children who have disabilities. What she said after that surprised me even more.

“I’m not doing this only for your daughter,” she said, “but also for the rest of the class. They are our future doctors, teachers, rabbis and neighbors, and they need to know Talya.”

That was many years ago. We have since lived in a number of communities. Talya is now an adult. But what I learned so long ago is that authentic and long-lasting inclusion that begins when a child is young will develop naturally and instinctively as they become adults.

Inclusion experts Jack Pearpoint, Marcia Forest and Judith Snow wrote:

Children learn to read by reading.

Children learn to write by writing.

Children learn to include by including.

It is a beautiful sight to behold when 6-year-olds fight over who will hold the siddur (prayerbook) for a classmate who has a physical disability, or argue over whose turn it is to push their friend’s wheelchair to the playground for recess. The motives of children are simple, pure and honestly reflexive. Essential life lessons are learned at this tender age.

Imagine that a family celebrates their daughter’s birthday at home, and doesn’t even know that three of her child’s classmates will show up to the party in wheelchairs. The issue never once came up in discussions with her child!

That’s what happens when a school holds inclusive classes, where children with and without disabilities learn side by side. It is both ordinary and remarkable.

In Jerusalem, new mothers literally call the inclusive preschool Gan Harmony from their labor rooms to place their healthy newborns on the waiting Everyone benefitslist. This reveals the positive attitude about inclusion that these mothers will pass onto the next generation.

In all of the above situations, everyone benefits. The children with disabilities have models for communication and behavior; they learn academic skills and life skills from their contemporaries. Relationships are initiated at the perfect teachable stage, ensuring that friendships will develop and mature.

The benefits to children without disabilities cannot be overestimated. Most importantly, they honestly enjoy the friendships they have with children with disabilities. They learn tolerance, acceptance and patience. They develop a sense of achieving what is principled, significant and morally correct, while discovering the authentic implication of Torah-true values and the meaning of community. These informal connections are strengthened throughout the formative years, until the concepts of inclusion become an integral element of daily life in our Jewish communities.