New York State Senator Simcha Felder addressed students of the IVDU School for Special Education, a division of Yachad, under the OU, at the Marilyn David IVDU Upper School boy’s elementary location on Wednesday morning. The girl’s elementary grade level 7-8 and 8 classes from both the high schools for boys and girls attended too for Felder’s first visit to the school.
Felder began by asking the crowd to vote on whether he should deliver a speech or conduct a Q&A. Since students had prepared questions prior to that day’s event, they were eager to voice their concerns.
“Teachers prepared them with questions before and they felt good to stand up and ask questions,” said Malkie Halberstam, principal of the girl’s high school. “Senator Felder validated them and engaged them.”
Remaining humorous and relatable to students throughout (“You don’t have to stand for me, I’ll sit,” Felder told a student who got up to present his question), students laughed and enjoyed the half hour talk.
IVDU offers students with varied developmental disabilities “a kind and nurturing environment in which their infinite potential can be realized,” according to their mission statement. Students are equipped with skills to help them navigate the world independently together with a dual curriculum of English and Judaic studies and opportunities to develop talents and strengths through various extracurricular activities and training programs.
“He educated students about what he does and how he can make a difference and empowered students by showing them they had a voice and he’s going to reflect upon their suggestions,” Halberstam added.
When asked what part of his job he enjoys most, Felder said, “What I’m doing this morning, not only at IVDU, but any time I spend with kids in school or the elderly are usually the most interesting people.”
A discussion on drugs and alcohol took place between Felder and students. Felder asked why people get addicted; one student answered “they feel trapped.” Felder spoke about people feeling desperate and misusing medications. “More recently it became more prevalent in our community,” he said. “It’s important that we’re speaking about it more and bringing more services to the community.”
In response to what law Felder’s most proud that he helped pass, he explained what it means to “sponsor a bill” by presenting the idea to the Senate. The bill he’s most happy about instituting in NYC is that the city can’t give away the body of a person who passes away and has to deliver a proper burial. Previously, the law allowed universities or institutions to claim a body of someone without relatives after 24 hours.
“According to halacha you can’t show disrespect to a person,” Felder explained. “When you do something special for someone who passes, it’s the ultimate kindness because they can’t repay you.”
The hardest part of Felder’s job? “Trying to do the right thing.”
He did right according to principles and administrators, who invited him to IVDU where he met with them that morning privately, prior to speaking with students, in order learn more about the work they do and will be meeting with them again. He especially expressed interest in their vocational program.
Miriam Reifer, School Administrator at IVDU, said Felder is looking to build a relationship with the school and to get to know them on a more personal level. “He took real interest in what we do here,” Reifer said. “He treated the students really nicely, really respected them and showed them he cares. He said it was the highlight of his day.”
Chavie Kahn, principal at the Marilyn David IVDU Upper School, was impressed with the way Felder interacted with students. “He’s been active in helping the Brooklyn Jewish community and we wanted him to understand our population and wanted to be on his map,” Kahn said.