Lauren Gartenstein and Dr. Naomi Ramer both exude a common humility in conversation about how they have contributed to SULAM-LI, the religious school for Jewish children with special needs.
Gartenstein, whose son Matthew was in SULAM’s program for two years, remains tethered to the institution as vice president of the board. Ramer continues to support SULAM and has taken part in the fundraisers, including as a participant in the “Dancing with the Stars” event in 2009 and as a judge for the 2016 Chopped Challenge.
For all that they do for SULAM, Garenstein, a Hewlett resident, and Ramer, who lives in Atlantic Beach, were the honorees at the 15th anniversary luncheon and boutique at the Woodmere Club on April 4.
“No matter what religion you are, any program like this is a gift,” said Gartenstein, who learned about SULAM from a rabbi, when her son, Matthew, was 11. Matthew, was diagnosed with autism at 2. “I got something out of knowing how his special needs and spiritual needs were being met,”she said. She and her husband, Steven, have been married since 1993. They also have a daughter, Emma, Matthew’s twin. Both are now 19.
Ramer became involved in 2009 after meeting Dena Stein, now the board president. “It’s a way to help the organization and keep it going,” said Ramer, the associate professor of pathology and dentistry and director of oral pathology at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is also the program director for the newly accredited Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology Residency Program at Mt. Sinai. Ramer and her husband, Mark, have been together since 1976. They have three adult children: Yael, Ilana and Adi.
Founded in 2003, SULAM-LI is a collaboration of Congregation B’Nai Sholom-Beth David, Congregation Sons of Israel, Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, Temple Am Echad-the South Shore Reform Congregation, Temple Beth El of Cedarhurst, Temple Hillel and Temple Israel of Lawrence in cooperation with the Friedberg JCC and NCJW-Peninsula Section.
Previously in the Five Towns, SULAM’s two-hour classes from 10 a.m. to noon on Sundays take place at the Friedberg JCC in Oceanside. The initial funding for the school was provided by the Caring Commission of UJA Federation of New York. Now fundraising and donations, along with the volunteers supports SULAM, which means ladder in Hebrew.
To lend its students a step up, SULAM, under the guidance of educational director Libby Adler, who along with four teachers, offers what program officials call a “multi-sensory and experiential learning” that incorporates art, cooking and storytelling for a “classic congregational school curriculum,” that meets the students’ needs. Education focuses on Jewish holidays and customs. The school has roughly 100 students and serves children as young as six and young adults into their 20s.
Dena Stein, SULAM’s board president, said Gartenstein and Ramer are model volunteers. “We’re friends, we met 10 years ago, she has always been very supportive and I thought she would be a good honoree,” Stein said about Ramer. On Gartenstein, a board member for eight years Stein added, “She’s my right-hand person and very instrumental to SULAM.”