A few weeks ago I attended our synagogue’s Kabbalat Shabbat service. This once-a-month service has an earlier start time than our traditional service and is followed by a congregational potluck dinner. The shorter service is ideal for many: Our youngest children who aren’t ready to be out past their bedtimes; teens who want to go out with friends later in the evening and adult members who don’t want to be out past their bedtimes after a full week of work. Our Kabbalat Shabbat is also a wonderful fit for an adult member of our congregation with developmental disabilities.
I have been thinking about writing this story for some time now. On this blog, sharing this man’s story would seem logical and meaningful. But quite honestly, it’s pretty unremarkable. I mean, he’s a really nice guy, but so are a lot of our members. He lives in a local group home and another member of our congregation picks him up each month, but he’s not the only congregant who needs a ride. I’ve watched his level of comfort increase, but that’s true of all of us as we spend more time somewhere. The melodies of the prayers have become more familiar to him, but that’s the learning curve every congregant climbs. I’ve noticed how other congregants have come to recognize him; again, that’s typical.
So I have been trying, for sake of this blog, to find the right angle. I’ve been looking for that “aha moment” to share. But he’s been a member of our congregation for the better part of two years now, and I have yet to find the right hook to demonstrate the value of including people with disabilities. It’s just normal, and that’s how it should be, and that’s the point of the story.
Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She oversees an extensive special needs program within the religious school, with programs designed to help students learn about their Jewish heritage, feel connected to their Jewish community and successfully learn Hebrew. Additionally, Lisa facilitates conversations about inclusion throughout the synagogue as whole and helps the congregation to shape its best practices. Lisa writes a blog about her experiences in Jewish special education: http://jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com/