$34,000 in grants given to learning-disabled children…

That's why Goldman, who also serves on the advisory committee of the Kohn Fund, is excited about a new program that will be launched this fall at Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael.

With a $15,000 grant from the Kohn Fund, the pilot program will provide Hebrew instruction to children with learning differences. A complement to the school's already existing special-education program in general studies, the new program, if successful, will be further implemented on the school's San Francisco campus.

The Kohn Fund, which is under the aegis of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, is also providing a $19,000 grant to the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education to support its special-education programs in other schools.

Discussing the new program at Brandeis Hillel, Rabbi Henry Shreibman, head of the school, said the grant "is a wonderful new breakthrough for us. As a Jewish day school, we strongly advocate Hebrew language learning. Every child deserves access to Hebrew, no matter what his or her ability."

The program, he said, differs from those in existence at other day schools because its participants are mainstreamed into regular classes, rather than "off learning Hebrew in a separate classroom."

Brandeis Hillel, which serves some 450 students at two campuses, has about 50 students on its San Francisco campus and 30 in Marin who require the services of a learning resource specialist. Learning differences range from attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity to dyslexia and visual-motor difficulties.

For the past 10 years, with the support of the Kohn Fund, the BJE has provided educational opportunities for children with disabilities in synagogue religious schools. Last year, an additional $5,000 allowed the BJE to provide services to Jewish day schools as well.

Flora Kupferman, the BJE's special-education consultant, said the goal is to ensure that children with learning disabilities have access to a Jewish education. To that end, she provides special-education workshops and consultation services to principals, teachers, parents and members of the community at large.

"Ten years ago there was a certain stigma in the Jewish community surrounding this issue. We still have a ways to go, but things are changing. Today it's more understood that disabilities are really different learning styles," she said.

"Learning disabilities have nothing to do with a child's IQ," noted Susan Protter, director of teen services at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Protter speaks from experience. Her 13-year-old daughter, Ayla, was diagnosed with dyslexia in nursery school. With extensive tutoring she learned to work with memory and sequencing problems and went on to attend the Mid-Peninsula Jewish Community Day School in Palo Alto.

Alluding to a perceived pressure among Jews to raise "nothing less than geniuses," Protter said that some Jewish parents are ashamed to admit their children have learning differences.

"Our family chooses not to be a hidden family — which, unfortunately, is still somewhat unusual in the Jewish community," she said.

The BJE intends to use the Kohn grant to carry out two new special education projects. The first would provide services in synagogue and Jewish day schools for underserved children with more severe developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism.

"These are the kids who never even make it to the day schools…or else are enrolled and then quickly canceled out," said Kupferman.

To determine the number of children in the area who would benefit from such a program, the BJE intends to conduct a four-month feasibility study to come up with the most workable program model. If feasible, a new program would be launched in the fall of 1999.

In the second new project, the BJE is changing the format of its online Handbook for Special Education in Synagogue Schools. It will include an order form for materials, as well as added links to other relevant Internet sites.

"We had a vision of a community that is responsive to the needs of all its members. It's programs like these that are helping to make that vision a reality, " said Michael Jacobs, chair of the Kohn Fund's advisory committee.