We were excited to receive this flier about a Hanukkah service for families with special needs from Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. The service, which will take place on December 4, will include prayer, song and interactive elements and be interpreted into American Sign Language.
We commend Congregation Rodeph Sholom for opening the doors of its tent to families who in the past may have felt marginalized by the Jewish community. And, we are happy to note, that there are a growing number of Jewish institutions and organizations committed to including individuals and families with special needs.
One such organization is Matan, which I was first introduced to as a religious school teacher. Matan helps Jewish educational institutions better serve children with special learning needs. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience this groundbreaking organization in action because it helped me better understand what we can do to help meet the needs of all those in our midst.
Jewish summer camps have also become increasingly aware of the need to broaden the tent. The Ramah Tikvah program, which this summer celebrated its 40th anniversary, continues to expand its specially designed programs that provide a summer camp experience for adolescents with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities.
As Jay Ruderman, the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, wrote in a recent oped in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
We cannot afford to ignore the issue of special needs because it is expensive or complex. It is critical to the future of our community and deserves to be prioritized.
If Jews with disabilities are turned away from Jewish schools, community centers and synagogues, that means the organized Jewish community is turning away an integral part of our community — our children, siblings, parents, friends, neighbors and colleagues.
But by moving the bar in this one area, and supporting programs that enable Jews with disabilities to participate in all facets of Jewish life, we can create opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people living with special needs to lead meaningful and vibrant Jewish lives.
We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Ruderman’s sentiments. We in the Jewish community have a biblical imperative to welcome all, no matter their background. We applaud and thank those individuals and organizations who are doing so and changing the Jewish community for the better.