Meet the Tanenholz Family

The Tanenholz family appreciates opportuni­ties in their lives when logistics are not compli­cated and they feel at ease.

With two daughters who have significant disabilities, this is not always easy to accomplish. Thankfully for the family of five from Mount Washington, Gesher LaTorah is one of those special places.

Gesher LaTorah, a program of The Macks Center for Jewish Education, has been providing Jewish education for people with significant disabilities for almost 50 years. Students do not age out of the program and continue to have their Jewish identities nourished in an environment that also meets their unique educational needs.

The Tanenholz family relocated to the Pikesville area from Ellicott City in part to send their daughters to Gesher LaTorah. Lily Tanenholz is 13 and suffers from Mucolipidosis Type IV (ML4), a Jewish genetic disease. She is almost completely blind, nonverbal and uses a wheelchair.

But, her mother Susan says, she hears perfectly and her face lights up when someone mentions her Hebrew school. She responds with excitement and glee to the sound of Hebrew prayers that she recognizes from school. She signals her happiness and approval by shaking a ring of bells strapped to her wrists.

Thanks to the education she received, Lily was able to participate in her bat mitzvah service at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation last May with her twin sister, Heidi. Her teachers helped her prepare for pieces of the service she could handle. The Tanenholzes’ youngest daughter, Becky, has autism, and also attends Gesher LaTorah. She is able to recite blessings and will become a bat mitzvah at Gesher LaTorah next year with the friends she has made there and their families.

Susan is grateful that all of her children have an opportunity to learn about their Jewish heritage. “If we were only able to give Heidi a Jewish education, it wouldn’t have been fair to her sisters,“ Susan says. “It’s such a blessing that we have the opportunity to give Lily and Becky a Jewish education as well, because of Gesher LaTorah.”

Paul Tanenholz notes that there is no alternative for his two daughters who attend Gesher LaTorah. “The fact that our community has this available for families is really incredible,” he says.

Rachel Turniasky, principal of Gesher LaTorah, often hears how grateful families are for the presence of such a special school. “The impact of Jewish education and identity is significant for our families,” she says. “We are a community that values education for every person.”

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