18 years ago, when I became rabbi at Congregation Or Ami, I was very thoughtful about what should be the first policies I asked the board to pass. The policy should reflect deeply held dreams of what a congregation should care about; it should illuminate important Jewish values.
I was thrilled when the board voted that:
Any child of a member has the right to a Jewish educational experience; and any child of a member, who works to the best of his or her ability, has the right and privilege of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Or Ami.
This policy made clear our priority that children with disabilities – and their families – have a home in this congregation and every congregation. We trumpet loudly our commitment to people with disabilities on a special needs webpage, “No one is more welcome at Or Ami than you!” We effectuate this by making sure our staff and educators say “yes” whenever asked about whether a child with disabilities can become a Bar Mitzvah, and by ensuring that our learning programs are flexible enough to meet a variety of unique needs. We educate toward this reality by directing our educational leadership to work with families to ensure that each child finds a productive learning experience at Or Ami. We partner with Chaverim, a program for developmentally disabled adults, so that Or Ami is their synagogue home. We sponsor Brandon’s Buddies, a program which brings together typical and special needs children for friendship and play. We celebrate joyously the numerous B’nai Mitzvah of children with special needs. We blog about special needs and disabilities regularly.
I was overjoyed to read that the RACblog (of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) was publicizing the good work of our Reform Movement congregations in the run up to February’s disability awareness month. (BTW, if you are not a regular reader of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) blog, you are missing some important Jewish social justice blogging.)
Perhaps you will come to Or Ami’s annual Shabbat Service celebrating people with special needs on Friday, January 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm. Families with children with special needs are invited to register for a special Shabbat dinner beforehand at 6:00 pm (there is a fee for the dinner).