It is such a joy to celebrate people doing amazing things with their lives, motivated only by their inner compass, propelling them out into the world to make it a better place. So often when we tell people that we want to recognize and honor them, they are surprised and try to minimize what they’ve done, or say that there’s been some sort of a mistake, or attempt to pass the honor on to someone else altogether. We go through this ritual every year in the lead up to the Matan Annual Event, a celebration benefiting our organization’s work training Jewish educational leadership to create inclusive environments in which we honor three passionate advocates. The people we have honored over the years have had a transformative effect on the disability community and beyond, and the three honorees we are recognizing on May 13 at the Matan Annual Event are no different. Each of the honorees this year possesses a sensibility about the world that it’s an imperfect place, and it’s their responsibility to leave it better than they found it — and they are continuing to do that with their lives. We are thrilled to honor Emily Perl Kingsley, Peter Flom, and Max Ash.
Emily Perl Kingsley is a phenomenal talent who married her values and intelligence with activism and advocacy to raise generations of kids to understand that disability is normative. If Sesame Street has ever been a part of your life, you know Emily’s work. She spent 45 years as a writer on Sesame Street and was instrumental in the show regularly including children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities in all aspects, not just as “disabled characters” but as everyday people who want to play and interact with their communities. One of Emily’s most well-known songs from the show is “Count Me In,” which Matan has used for years in our trainings. The song is symbolic of every message she has been pushing throughout her life: everyone has a purpose, everyone has a desire to be a part of the community, part of the neighborhood. Emily’s activism has in large part been inspired by her son, who has Down Syndrome. As they were raising Jason, , Emily and her husband found opportunities to speak to students at universities studying education. They wanted future teachers to understand that their son had abilities, and that they should focus on what he can do rather than what he can’t. They wanted people to not overlook what was possible for their son — and in turn, what was possible for everyone.
When Peter Flom was five years old, a psychologist told his parents that he had “minimal brain function” (a now outdated term) and “would never go to college.” Peter’s mother disagreed with this assessment and went on to start The Gateway School of New York in 1964, which still operates today. Peter went on to graduate from both high school and college early, earn two master’s degrees as well as a Ph.D., and become a statistician, husband, and father. Peter uses his experience as a person with a nonverbal learning disability (NLD) to help others understand NLD and the types of support people with NLD need. He is incredibly transparent about his own experiences, positive and negative, and believes that it is important for people with learning disabilities to share information so others can learn. Peter has written a book, Screwed Up Somehow but Not Stupid: Life with a Learning Disability, and created a website for people with learning disabilities, and their teachers, families, and friends.
Max Ash is a 15-year-old with a lifelong love of basketball. Inspired by this love, he created a mug in second grade with a hoop to flick marshmallows into his hot chocolate. The Mug with a Hoop® helped launch MAX’IS Creations, which is a family business that sells variations of that original mug. Through the company, Max, who has dyslexia, has raised thousands of dollars in proceeds to various nonprofits. Max’s ingenuity serves as a model success story that raises awareness and support for kids who happen to think and learn differently. Every Matan Annual Event attendee will be taking a mug home with them that night!
Each of our honorees is different from the others, but they have each done so much to push the conversation forward in our collective perspective of the diversity of ability and disability. All of us at Matan are thrilled to toast them — and we hope that you will be able to join us in doing so as well. The Matan Annual Event is not a sit-down dinner, and you don’t need to buy a table. Instead, join us for drinks and bites as we honor Emily, Peter, and Max, and give them a platform on which to take stock for themselves of the impact they have had on all of us.
The Matan Annual Event will be held on May 13, 2019 at 6:15 PM at Sunset Terrace at Pier 61 of Chelsea Piers in New York City. Learn more and buy tickets here.
Dori Frumin Kirshner has served as Matan’s Executive Director since May of 2009, and has been part of Matan’s leadership team since October of 2007. Under Dori’s leadership, Matan has shifted from a local, direct service organization to one which significantly impacts the field of Jewish Special Needs Education by training current and future leaders across the country in a multitude of settings — congregational schools, early childhood programs, camps and Jewish Day Schools.
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