Rabbi Martin Schloss was born into a household filled with Jewish communal activities. His father, an émigré from Germany in 1939, was a sergeant in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. The Schloss apartment in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, served as an oasis of Jewish knowledge and culture for soldiers on the post. In 1961 Rabbi Schloss entered the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from high school there in 1965. He attended Yeshiva College and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University and received his bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969. During this period Rabbi Schloss served as a camp counselor and first encountered Scott, a child with special needs. It was his work with Scott that motivated him to dedicate himself to the field of Jewish special education.
From 1969 to 1978 Rabbi Schloss served as the Coordinator of the Religious Education Department at Maimonides Institute for Exceptional Children in Far Rockaway, New York. He planned programs for and taught children with mental retardation as well as those with physical, emotional, and learning disabilities. He also served as a rabbinic advisor to the Boy Scouts of America where he assisted a number of boys with disabilities to receive the Ner Tamid Award for religious knowledge and practice. During this same period Rabbi Schloss received a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College and rabbinic ordination from the Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Avrohom in Brooklyn.
Rabbi Schloss joined the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (BJE) in 1980 as the Director of the Jewish Heritage Pilot Project for Developmentally Disabled Adolescents and Adults. As a result of this very successful project and some others, the BJE created its Special Education Center. In 1992 he developed an agreement with the New York City Board of Education ensuring the provision of special education services to students in nonpublic schools.
Since 1975 Rabbi Schloss has taught special education courses in a variety of colleges and schools. He has lectured on special education issues at Yale Divinity School, York College in Toronto, the University of Tel Aviv, as well as many other institutions and organizations worldwide. In 1984, together with Sara Simon of the BJE in Washington, DC, Rabbi Schloss co-founded the Consortium of Special Educators in Central Agencies for Jewish Education.
From Rabbi Martin Schloss's Statement of Motivation and Purpose:
“There were many factors in my decision to pursue Jewish special education as a career. My parents provided me with a deep appreciation for the importance of each individual. They considered helping someone in need one of the greatest virtues one can possess…. My parents also taught me about the importance of Jewish education. My father would travel after work from Worcester to Southbridge, Massachusetts, to run a small Talmud Torah school…. My mother was a first grade Hebrew teacher and General Studies Principal of the Worcester Hebrew Day Academy…. My interest in special education began while listening to her stories of working with students with learning and behavior problems….
I have recently begun to realize, more and more, how profoundly my students have affected my life. They taught me that there are few things in life more powerful than the human spirit, that although each was challenged by life in a unique way, each was capable of reaching greater heights than those set by society. Each is a creation of G-d, capable of making significant contributions. And, most important, each should be entitled to assume his or her rightful place in the Jewish community….
During the past twenty-three years I have witnessed some extremely exciting events: Four retarded youngsters won the Boy Scouts’ coveted Ner Tamid Award. (The rabbi informed me that few of those who had received the award under his auspices were as knowledgeable and worthy as my students.) An autistic youngster became an appropriate participating member of our prayer service. Marty, a cerebral-palsied young man, became a television program director. Countless numbers of children who are retarded, deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or orthopedically handicapped prepared for and celebrated their bar or bat mitzvah.
All this occurred mostly to the amazement of family, friends, and educators…. They have all taught me the fundamental concept which Dr. Reuven Feuerstein calls ‘human modifiability.’ People can change.”
From His Letters of Support:
“Rabbi Schloss’s dream is that every Jewish person have the opportunity to make his or her own unique contribution to Jewish life. To make this dream a reality, Rabbi Schloss has worked tirelessly as an advocate for the right of every Jewish child to receive an appropriate Jewish education; the privilege of every Jewish person regardless of ‘difference’ to find a place in the Jewish community, and the responsibility of every educator to recognize, respect, and address the individual needs of each child. Rabbi Schloss has helped make Jewish special education an issue which the Jewish community can no longer set aside. Thousands of ‘different’ Jewish children received and are receiving a Jewish education thanks to his efforts…. Thousands of once disenfranchised and frustrated Jewish parents throughout the United States can thank Rabbi Schloss for his role in the creation and continued growth of educational and social programs, camps, and community living facilities now serving their children.”
Dr. Don Well
“My first encounter with Rabbi Martin Schloss was as a parent of a child with learning problems, who was seeking to identify a Jewish supplementary school which could prepare him for his bar mitzvah…. As a result of his heroic efforts, special education became a recognized discipline within Jewish education. I will never forget that first telephone conversation. His warmth and concern were obvious, as was the disappointment that we both felt because there was then nothing appropriate to meet the particular needs of my son. This is no longer the case.”
“I cannot adequately express my enormous admiration for his achievement, passion, commitment, dedication, and courage. Rabbi Schloss began his work when the Jewish community was not attuned to the special requirements of the learning and developmentally disabled child. Working with a myriad of organizations and founding his own when needed he broke through the many fears and stereotypes prevalent about Jewish special education. His dictum ‘Every Jewish child deserves a Jewish education’ was initially met with disregard. Now it has become the banner of every Jewish special education program…. It is no exaggeration to say that there is not a day school in the country which has not been affected directly or indirectly by his important work.”
Rabbi Joshua Fishman