For one Shabbat in February, the focus at area congregations will be the inclusion of those with disabilities and other special needs.
Participating congregations will implement a variety of programs — from inviting guest speakers to providing sign language interpreters — to demonstrate “the importance of including individuals with special needs and their families in every aspect of Jewish life,” said Rebecca Wanatick, community coordinator of MetroWest Able.
MetroWest Able is sponsoring the second annual Shabbat Shalem — literally “whole and complete Shabbat” — to be held over the weekend of Feb. 5-6. The date coincides with National Jewish Disability Awareness month.
The goal of Shabbat Shalem is to “raise the level of awareness of the responsibility to provide a setting in which all members of the community will be able to fully access and participate in Jewish life,” Wanatick said.
MetroWest Able is a network of local agencies and community leaders advocating for individuals with disabilities and their families convened by United Jewish Communites of MetroWest NJ.
At press time, 25 synagogues had signed on to participate. Wanatick said she is hoping that number will reach 30. Two youth groups holding conventions at local synagogues — the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue Youth and the Orthodox NCSY — are also planning programming.
Last year 20 congregations took part in the initiative.
Each participating congregation creates its own programming tailored to meet its individual needs. Bnai Keshet in Montclair will reach out to the deaf community, providing a sign language interpreter for Shabbat services.
Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn is planning a drumming circle designed to engage families in an inclusive Havdala program.
Other synagogues have invited congregation members to speak about their experiences in the community, offer sermons relating to the theme of inclusion, or use the occasion to announce the creation of “inclusion” committees to assess their services for those with special needs. Last year only one congregation in the area had such a committee; now there are five
MetroWest Able is serving as a central resource in coordinating events for Feb. 5-6.
Congregations that signed on, as of Jan. 25, include: Adath Shalom, Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David, Bnai Keshet, B’nai Shalom, Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex, Congregation Beth El, Congregation Beth Ahm of West Essex, Congregation Beth Hatikvah, Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, Jewish Center of Sussex County, Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, Mount Freedom Jewish Center, Pine Brook Jewish Center, Summit Jewish Community Center, Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, Temple B’nai Abraham, Temple B’nai Jeshurun, Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, Temple B’nai Or, Temple Ner Tamid, Temple Shalom, Temple Sha’arey Shalom, Temple Sha’arey Tefilo-Israel, Temple Sholom of West Essex, and White Meadow Temple.
Shabbat Shalem and MetroWest ABLE — Access, Belonging and Life Enrichment for People and Families with Special Needs — are funded by the UJA MetroWest Annual Campaign, the Linda Bunis Haller Foundation, and The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.