2009-10-07 / Home

Dream comes true:

Local girl prepares for non-verbal bat mitzvah at Voorhees synagogue

Sydney Forman's wish to become a bat mitzvah like her older sisters, Lindsay and Karly, is about to come true. But Sydney's coming-of-age ritual will be especially memorable because it is a unique ceremony for a very special young woman. When the Cherry Hill teen steps onto the bima at Cong. Beth El in Voorhees for her twilight service on Oct. 17, it will be the culmination of an effort fueled by love and assisted by technology. Sydney's bat mitzvah will be the first to be conducted at Beth El for a candidate who is nonverbal.

Sydney Forman (center) laughs with sisters Lindsay (left) and Karly. Sydney is gearing up for her bat mitzvah on Oct. 17 at Cong. Beth El. Sydney Forman (center) laughs with sisters Lindsay (left) and Karly. Sydney is gearing up for her bat mitzvah on Oct. 17 at Cong. Beth El. Sydney, who turned 13 on Sept. 3, was born with multiple disabilities. Diagnosed with neurological and eye problems, she is developmentally delayed and cannot verbalize.

A student at St. John of God Community Services in Westville since age three, Sydney has been attending Beth El's Project Lev for the past five years. The specialneeds program for developmentally challenged children meets for two hours every Sunday at the synagogue where the Formans are longtime members.

Sydney's parents, Rick and Donna, were married there. Lindsay, a 19-year-old sophomore at Boston University, Karly, a 15-year-old sophomore at Cherry Hill High School East, and Sydney were all named there. And like her sisters before her, Sydney has always wanted to become a bat mitzvah there.

Two years in the making, her special day is about to realized with the aid of her augm entative communication device, programmed with information about everything from colors, numbers, TV shows and jokes to Sydney's family and friends. Sydney knows which frames on the device to push for the information she wants, and pictures come up accompanied by explanatory recordings that do the talking for her.

"It took us a while to figure out what would be the most meaningful way of doing this for Sydney. It was a group effort with the family, the Hazzan, Sydney's speech therapist, her communication device specialist, and friends contributing," Donna Forman said.

Beth El Hazzan Alisa Pomerantz-Boro said Sydney clearly understands what's going on. "The smile and the glow on her face when she practices are so wonderful. I'm thrilled the synagogue has been able to help make her dream come true."

Loudspeakers will let guests hear the responses programmed into Sydney's communication device. Sydney's sister Karly recorded the blessings to be recited. A friend, Sydney Boory, whose bat mitzvah is also approaching, recorded answers to the questions Rabbi Aaron Krupnick will ask. Through her device, Sydney Forman will recite the S'hma, say the Torah blessings, and read a line from her Torah portion during the 45-minute service.

"She really is aware. She saw her sisters' bat mitzvah videos. Now, she knows it's her turn," Rick Forman said.

Added Donna, "She has so much potential, and with this device she can share it."

Krupnick said the experience of being on the bima before family and friends—and in the eyes of God—will stay with Sydney for the rest of her life. "She truly appreciates what it means to be a bat mitzvah. The Creator of the universe loves all His creatures, and is proud to be hearing the Torah chanted by Sydney Forman," he said.

Donna Forman considers it bashert, or meant to be, that the Torah portion is Noah, one of Sydney's favorite Bible tales. Her sisters will sit with her to read a version of the ark story equipped with sound effects that Sydney can activate.

After Havdalah, about 275 guests—including teachers, doctors, caregivers and others who have helped Sydney reach this milestone—will celebrate at a party with an inspirational feel-good theme.

Donna hopes Sydney's story will convince other parents whose children have disabilities that nothing is impossible—certainly not a bar or bat mitzvah. "It's not so much if they can read the Hebrew and do the trope. It's the meaning they get within," she said. .

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