Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, director emeritus of Yachad/The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, has been named Professor and Lucille Weidman Chair of the newly created graduate program in Jewish general and special education at Touro College.
The two-year program, the first of its kind in the U.S., will train future and current teachers to work with children with learning differences and special needs in yeshiva and day school settings. Dr. Lichtman’s responsibilities include launching and directing this new initiative, recruiting students and teaching key courses.
“Every child deserves a proper Jewish education,” stated Dr. Lichtman, a resident of West Orange, New Jersey. “To be the first and only program is very exciting and challenging. With some outstanding faculty, we will train the existing and next generation of professionals to work with a wide array of learning needs in mainstream yeshivas and special needs programs. Chumash, Tanach, Judaic studies—no one has been taught how to teach these subjects specifically to children with special needs.”
According to Dr. Lichtman, students in the new MS program will be trained to work with children with a variety of special needs, “especially those children who are ‘out of the box,” he said. Graduates will work in both mainstream Jewish day schools and yeshivas as well as in special education programs such as Ivdu (also founded by Dr. Lichtman), Sinai or Kulanu.
The program is also open to students in their last year of their undergraduate program; up to 12 credits can be used simultaneously toward completion of their bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree.
For Rabbi Moshe Krupka, executive vice president of Touro College, the creation of the program is a natural outgrowth of Touro’s long-time leadership in graduate education programs in New York State.
“At the very core of Touro we value education, but one of the tenets on which we were founded was service to the Jewish community. We’ve created a premier program in Jewish special education and pedagogy, the best of all worlds, to benefit the Jewish community and Torah world,” said Rabbi Krupka.
When Dr. Lichtman decided to step down from his leadership of Yachad, Rabbi Krupka knew he had found the one person ideally qualified to launch and direct the new program.
“Dr. Jeff Lichtman is a legend in special education. He is a visionary educator. Yachad blossomed under his expert tutelage. Who better than he to envision a graduate program that is substantive, effective and meaningful to Jewish education and special Jewish education?”
The program will meet on Touro’s main campus in Manhattan and in satellite locations. Classes will be held in the evenings to allow teachers to continue to work while they train. Dr. Lichtman hopes to add a post-master’s certificate sometime in the future.
A psychologist by training, Dr. Lichtman began his career in public schools. He was particularly interested in what he described as the “outliers”—children who were gifted, talented and challenged—whose needs were not being met. He saw the same unmet needs in mainstream yeshivas and the Jewish community at large. This recognition sparked the creation of Yachad, which under his visionary leadership became an international force for innovative inclusion programs serving children and adults with disabilities.
“There are few things I can imagine that can be more meaningful than to be able to work with individual children and families and make a difference in their [current] lives and the trajectory of their lives. What I am most proud of is that Yachad has created an awareness about developmental disabilities that didn’t previously exist and allowed us to significantly change attitudes in the Jewish community.
His decision to lead the new master’s program was influenced by his experience at Yachad, where he was constantly fielding requests from yeshivas for teachers able to provide a quality Torah education for children with disabilities or significant learning disabilities.
These requests made him acutely aware of the of the urgent need for highly trained educators. “Touro had the vision to want to do this and I’m honored to be able to lead it. Every child deserves a good education and a good Jewish education. I would like to believe our program over time will deliver really well-trained teachers who understand the children, care for the children and who will provide a dynamic, meaningful and quality Jewish education.”
Dr. Lichtman is currently in the process of selecting faculty members who are all highly skilled field practitioners, experience he described as essential.
“This program is not academic or theoretical. We will be teaching from a pragmatic and practical perspective. How do you achieve the goal of individualized education? What is it like to teach a fifth-grade class with 22 kids with different needs? How do you teach all of them in that one classroom? Our faculty will have already done so successfully or are doing it right now.”
He also believes a thorough grounding in child development is critical for success—so much so that he has chosen to teach the class himself. “Most people don’t know it or remember it, and there is no shortage of times when teachers are overwhelmed. Maybe the expectations are not appropriate. We want our graduates to have a strong grounding in how to teach different ages and learning styles. Children are not little adults.”
Dr. Lichtman received his masters’ degrees in psychology and education from St. John’s University and New York University. He received his undergraduate and rabbinical training from Yeshiva University, where he also completed his doctorate in psychology. Dr. Lichtman is a member of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Non-Public School Advisory Commission and served as president of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey.
Upon completion of the program, students are eligible for state licensure, which allows graduates to work in public schools or with students who receive supplemental support services provided by the public school district in which they live.
By Sherry Kirschenbaum
Dr. Lichtman welcomes all inquiries. Interested candidates should contact Dr. Lichtman at 212-463-0400 ext. 55504 or [email protected].