On Nov. 4, children from Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston with special needs will be invited to Shabbat services designed to be accessible to everyone. It marks the beginning of the synagogue’s monthly Shabbat L’Kulam, an interactive service encouraging participants to “put the prayer book down, and participate from the heart,” according to a prepared statement.
The service, to be led by Cantor Sharon Knoller, is being sponsored by the congregation’s new inclusion committee, which aims to accommodate all members regardless of “physical, cognitive, emotional, or behavioral ability.”
The congregation is also in the process of purchasing assistive hearing devices and will affix a mezuza in the religious school that is accessible to people in wheelchairs.
The inspiration for all these changes is a self-assessment survey put together by MetroWest ABLE, a network of local agencies and community leaders advocating for individuals with disabilities and their families. It was convened by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
The survey, released in 2010, was designed to show congregations how accessible they really are, and determine what steps they can take to improve.
Armed with the survey results, congregations may apply for a MetroWest ABLE Challenge Grant Award to fund improvements.
So far, five synagogues have been certified as accessible, and a few more are close, according to Rebecca Wanatick, MetroWest Able community coordinator.
The two-year-old grant program has distributed a total of over $14,000 this year to 11 MetroWest synagogues. The new cohort of grantees was announced over the summer. The project is funded by UJA Campaign, The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, and The Linda Bunis Haller Foundation.
“MetroWest ABLE is proud to help support congregations in our community as they continue to create opportunities in which all members can access every aspect of Jewish life,” said Wanatick.
Among the 2011 grantees is Mount Freedom Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Morris County. The grant enabled the congregation to purchase signs directing members and guests to accessible entrances, install a railing to the bima, add a new coat rack for people with limited mobility, and purchase and hang mezuzot at wheelchair height.
“Our strong and vibrant Randolph synagogue is proud to be a recipient of this MetroWest ABLE Synagogue Challenge Grant award,” said congregation president Jamie Ramsfelder in a prepared statement. “It is MFJC’s ongoing mission to create an inviting community structure that fosters a lifelong Jewish connection for our children, families, and staff through our ongoing inclusive programs and services.”
Adath Shalom in Morris Plains and B’nai Shalom in West Orange will both purchase assisted listening systems. Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange will make its bima accessible to all, and the Lubavitch Center shul in West Orange will purchase a portable ramp.
Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael will use the grant funds to purchase directional signs as well as a storage unit to house large-print books and augmentative listening devices.
Other recipients include Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield, Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston, and White Meadow Temple in Rockaway.