By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, Director, Whole Community Inclusion

Three moms, from three different Jewish denominations, with five total children who have special needs, gathered together to share their wisdom and experience last Sunday for a Whole Community Inclusion seminar for parents, held in partnership with the Friendship Circle, focusing on Bar/Bat Mitzvah for Children of all Abilities.

The panel included Jennifer Abramson from Old York Road Temple-Beth Am (OYRT-BA, Reform), Rabbi Margot Stein from Mishkan Shalom (Reconstructionist) and Rebbetzin Chava Schmidt from Chabad of Philadelphia (Lubavitch)—each of whom played an instrumental role in helping find the supports that their children needed to meaningfully prepare for and participate in their children’s B’nai Mitzvah.

In the case of Jennifer’s children, Leon and Allie, who are 18 months apart and each have autism and developmental delays, the rabbis and teachers at OYRT-BA helped to use communication apps on an iPad to teach her children, who are non-verbal, how to press buttons and select their Torah readings. For Margot Stein’s son, Raffi, who is also on the autism spectrum, Stein found private tutor Rabbi Michelle Greenfield to work with him intensely a year before his Bar Mitzvah and stressed how she infused Jewish education into her son’s home life as he’s grown up. For Chava Schmidt, each of her three adult sons who has a genetic syndrome Fragile X, which impairs communication and development, had a unique Bar Mitzvah experience, carefully designed for where each one was developmentally at the time of his Bar Mitzvah.

Parents of younger children had many questions about Jewish education for these experienced parents. By fostering connections among seminar attendees, Whole Community Inclusion and the Friendship Circle are helping parents raising Jewish children with special needs meaningfully engage in and access resources for Jewish life.

Want to learn more about inclusion? There are lots of learning opportunities throughout February for Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Stay in touch for events, resources, and our Visual Expressive Art Gallery throughout the month!