Shabbat candle lighting: 8:07pm

A Passion for Dance, Kindness, and Respect

Many in the Jewish Community already know JCC staff member Sara Rubinstein. Sara was recently awarded the Darrell D. Friedman Institute’s Neely Tal Snyder Community Impact Award, for her work improving the lives of people with disabilities both here at the J and within the Jewish community.

What many don’t know about Sara is her career trajectory, and what led her to do this incredibly important work as a champion for people with diverse needs and advocate for inclusion.

A participant in dance programs since kindergarten, Sara’s “first love” was, and remains, dance, with musical theatre a strong second. 

Through high school, Sara was convinced she would someday become a dance teacher, but at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, she pursued another field of study, Psychology. 

Right around sophomore year something clicked for Sara, and she recognized she was drawn to the practice of Dance/Movement Therapy, representing a fusion of her love for dance with her newfound interest in her major.

As she always does, Sara then took it to the next level and earned her Master of Arts in Creative Arts in Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. 

While in graduate school, Sara worked as an intern at the HMS School for Children with Cerebral Palsy, where she led group and individual dance and movement therapy sessions for medically-involved children and adolescents with severe cerebral palsy.

Sara recalls the experience of working with children with profound disabilities with emotion.

“At HMS, I learned to look for everyone’s strengths and abilities, rather than focusing on limitations, no matter how profound they may seem.”

After graduate school, Sara found a grant-funded position working as a Dance and Movement Consultant for Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, where she conducted individual dance and movement therapy sessions at bedside and in playrooms for children and adolescents.

When the grant expired, Sara took advantage of this opportunity to spend time in another area she had passion for... Israel.

Sara didn’t only want to explore, she wanted to continue learning and share her work with those who could benefit from caring and dance.

Sara found a great program through Ma’ase Olam-Masa Israel Journey, and set off to live and work in Akko, Israel for a year, where she utilized dance therapy or children with disabilities, as well as for at-risk adolescent Druze girls.

The experience was amazing, she recalls.  “I had my choice in what I wanted to do, was able to meet people from so many different cultures in Israel, and everyone was responsive to my individual work as a dance therapist.” Sara also lived right on the Mediterranean Sea, where “every night there was a brilliant sunset!”

While Sara’s growth as a dance therapist has completely paralleled her development as a professional in the disability field, her next position – here at the J -- would be specifically focused on community programs and inclusion, with occasional, very special forays back into the world of dance, through special dance events and with visiting dancers.

Sara now leads the JCC in its efforts to become a facility that is welcoming and inclusive to individuals of all abilities. To her credit, she has managed the expansion of JCC Camp inclusion from one camp to seven camps, with over thirty campers taking part in J Camps programs. She also enjoys educating staff at the J who are eager to be accepting, welcoming and accommodating, but may lack some of the knowledge, experience and "tools" to make necessary adjustments that come naturally to her.

Sara approaches all people, everyone – with or without disabilities -- with the same level of kindness and respect.

“It’s simple: when you approach someone – anyone -- you just say ‘hi’ and then you adjust as necessary.”

“Listening involves a lot of patience and communication of respect because they deserve that respect just as much as anybody else. We all have the same rights and deserve the same opportunities."  

Of her recent receipt of the Neely Tal Snyder Award, Sara says she will “use the award as a platform to highlight the importance of inclusion of people of all abilities, and why we need to make sure everything we do is accessible.”  Sara envisions a day in which we no longer have to think specifically about accessibility and inclusion, it is just a given.

“Fortunately for all of us, the Jewish community embraces inclusion -- it is a force that can make things happen!”