The concept of Big Tent Judaism is something that drew me to JOI when I first applied here last summer. The idea that all are welcome—intermarried/interpartnered families, Jews of color, Jews-by-choice—is one that I was raised to believe in, yet rarely saw practiced before working here. Now, almost every day, an article arrives in my inbox telling of a community who is opening its tent to those on the periphery of Jewish life. One group that is often forgotten about, however, is the physically and intellectually disabled Jews who often get lost in the shuffle of a Jewish community, especially the children.
So, when I came across the story of Matthew Emmi, an autistic boy from Andover, Massachusetts, I was encouraged to hear about a synagogue that found a way to help him become a Bar Mitzvah. Matthew cannot read or write, let alone recite his Haftorah, but thanks to the wonders of an iPad, he was able to not only participate, but largely lead, the service for his Bar Mitzvah. By tapping various icons on the tablet’s screen, Matthew was able to “call up” members of his family to the bimah for their blessings, and, through the voice of the synagogue’s cantor, even “recite” the Sh’ma.