“My father was a people person…people felt that he would listen to them and help them where he could…and that is what he was amazing for and what he will be remembered for.”-Tova Kelman
Rabbi Joseph Kelman’s z”tl contributions to this world were many. He founded multiple schools, camps, and organizations that cared for individuals with diverse abilities and helped them connect to their culture. A pioneer in the field, Rabbi Kelman developed a conviction early in his career that a person with a disability is entitled to the same Jewish experience or a similar one as anyone else. Kelman created the Kadima School in 1961, one of the first of its kind in North America for individuals with developmental disabilities. The Kadima School offered Jewish children and teenagers the opportunity to attend an accredited Hebrew and religious school program. He also pioneered a special bar/bat mitzvah program for children with special needs believing that “no one should be left behind”. He went on to co-found Ezra a program for students with learning disabilities; the Dr. Abraham Shore Shearim Hebrew day school, to educate children with learning disabilities and eventually, Reena.
In addition, Rabbi Kelman also chaired the North America wide committee on special education under the auspices of the United synagogue of conservative Judaism for more than 30 years, and he was instrumental in having developmentally disabled children accepted into Jewish camps.
Irving Feldman, past chair, Reena Board of Directors, grew up in Bathurst manor, near Beth Emeth Bais Yehudah synagogue as a young boy and remembers Rabbi Kelman had a high-profile in the area. “He used to go for walks after shul and was a marvellous community participator and he would walk with his wife and visit families. I have very clear memories of him popping by my house, schmoozing with my parents,” says Feldman. In those days, according to Feldman, “Rabbi Kelman spoke about how there were a significant amount of developmentally handicapped people that were warehoused and siloed and how that was not good for anybody. He was out there promoting un-siloing Jewish people that were siloed in these terrible institutions.” Rabbi Kelman did not stop until he made that happen.
Visionary, scholar, driving force, champion, humanitarian, “He was the conscience of the community”, according to former Reena Director and CEO Sandy Keshen, “He set the tone for how to respect people who have limits by giving them the same opportunities as other people”. He saw a need in the community, says Keshen “…and did his best to fill it…seeking out resources wherever possible-government, personal contacts, other groups inside and outside of the Jewish community, in order to achieve the goal of including disabled members as equals and improving their quality of life.”
This passion held true for everything in his life, according to daughter Tova Kelman. “If there was a hole that needed plugging, he would help get people involved to plug it.”
Tova says she knows her father would be very proud of the impact that Reena has had as a leader in the sector. “He would just marvel at the Lou Fruitman residence,” says Kelman, “…and be sheping nachas.”