Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Orthodox OT Boom

Tamar Fromm had planned to spend Shabbat in her hotel room. Friday night dinner would entail little more than a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. An Orthodox Jew, Fromm, who keeps kosher, brought sandwich ingredients from home in New York to Long Beach, Calif., where she was attending the annual conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

By Friday afternoon, however, Fromm, an occupational therapist who treats people with multiple sclerosis, had met several other observant Jews attending the conference in May. Fromm, 25, scrapped her plans for a sandwich dinner, in favor of a makeshift celebration with about ten Shabbat-observant OTs. They lit candles on the hotel pool deck, and then gathered in a conference room for dinner. There was schnitzel from a local kosher restaurant, salad prepared by one conference-goer, and a jar of gefilte fish picked up by another.

The dinner launched Orthodox Jewish Occupational Therapy Chavrusa (www.ojotc.org). The caucus advocates on behalf of observant Jews working in occupational therapy, a field that in the past decade has become increasingly populated by Orthodox women. Though this particular group has long been a presence in the profession, Orthodox women now account for more than a third of students pursuing master’s degrees in OT at several New York-area universities, including Columbia University, State University of New York-Downstate, and Touro College, according to anecdotal evidence.

Occupational therapists teach fine motor and independent living skills to children and adults. An OT might show a wheelchair-bound sixth-grader how to maneuver the lunch line in the middle school cafeteria; coach a developmentally delayed adult on workplace-appropriate social skills; or help maximize hand use and teach personal grooming techniques to an elderly stroke victim who has lost the use of her right arm.

Fromm surmises that the flexibility many OT jobs afford accounts in part for its popularity among Orthodox women looking to balance a career with domestic responsibilities.


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