2018-06-20 / Home

Jewish Abilities Alliance is planning first service to be led by special needs community

At a recent JAA service at Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Jerry David (on left, facing the crowd) and Cantor Neil Schnitzer led participants in song. Photo by Steve Ehrlich. 
At a recent JAA service at Temple Emanuel, Rabbi Jerry David (on left, facing the crowd) and Cantor Neil Schnitzer led participants in song. Photo by Steve Ehrlich.


Voice staff

In recent years, Temple Emanuel has hosted beautiful Shabbat services led by various affinity organizations--including the Sisterhood and youth group--featuring prayers and songs that are especially meaningful to the organizers but also hold appeal to the regular Shabbat crowd.

On Aug. 24, the special needs community will have its turn. The first ever South Jersey CommUNITY INCLUSive Shabbat Service is now in the planning stage. Organizers are seeking input from anybody and everyone who has an inspiring prayer, song, or way of expressing their love of Shabbat that they would want to contribute, said Mindy Rosen, a TE congregant involved with the Southern New Jersey Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA).

“It’s going to be led by adults or any person with special needs and their family,” explained Rosen. “We’re doing it in partnership with the Jewish Abilities Alliance and the hope is that the entire community will come out for this. It will not only be people with special needs and their families in the audience but other community members who will get to see how much our kids can do and how much they can be involved in synagogue life.”

Since the JAA was created in 2015 by the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey to encourage greater collaboration among educators and institutions, area synagogues have been working together to offer services specifically catering to kids and adults with special needs spread across the Jewish calendar year, covering every major holiday, Shabbat and festivals. These services typically feature more hands-on activities, musical moments and visual cues than that of a typical family service. Most are followed by an Oneg meal and art project and all are open to those interested in attending--regardless of their synagogue affiliation or lack of one.

The Aug. 24 service takes the services to a new level, said Eric Newman, co-chair of the JAA with his wife Linda.

“They’ve gotten so much out of services, and now they get to show it,” said Newman, a M’kor Shalom congregant.

Newman and Rosen said they plan to reach out beyond the congregations in the Alliance for input in coming weeks as TE has offered to publish a prayer book for the occasion that could serve as a template for future special needs services or for families to have for their own Shabbat rituals, said Rosen. She noted that the prayer book will likely feature larger print and transliteration of prayers and added TE is an ideal location to pilot this service, as the bima is now completely accessible by wheelchair thanks to recent upgrades.

Ian Amsterdam, who often serves as a sign-language interpreter for JAA services, has already signed on, she added.

Among those excited to lead the service is the Newmans’ son Max, who is turning 25 in August. Max said he plans to sing his favorite song, “Mi Chamocah.

“It’s about our people crossing the Red Sea with Miriam, her brother Aaron, and all the other Jews, who were in the wilderness for 40 years after Pharaoh’s army drowned,” he said, noting that it reminds him of Passover, his favorite holiday.

Eric Newman explained that Max feels comfortable participating in services whether or not they are specifically geared to special needs families.

“Max doesn’t look at it as special-needs services,” he said. “To him, it’s just another opportunity to go to services, which he loves,” said Newman.

The service takes place 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Temple Emanuel.

For more information, contact Rosen at Mindyrosen1@aol.com or (856) 424-3112 or Newman at newmanteaches@gmail.com or (609) 206-9804.  

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