By Daniela Appel
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, and Congregation Beth Torah (CBT) plans to once again celebrate with its annual Inclusion Shabbat on Feb. 13. The congregation traditionally invites Chai House residents to take part in Shabbat services and Kiddush lunch with a congregational buddy. Due to the ongoing pandemic, services will be held virtually this year, but as in years past, the Inclusion Shabbat will mean taking time to “recognize those in our community who have been working hard to make Beth Torah a welcoming place for everyone,” says Rabbi Elana Zelony. Inclusion Shabbat is an event planned by Beth Torah’s Inclusion Committee, which aims to make participating in synagogue life more accessible to members of the community who have various disabilities.
Almost six years ago, Zelene Lovitt spearheaded Beth Torah’s efforts to become an inclusive environment for the community through United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Inclusion Initiative. CBT was one of the original 16 congregations in North America accepted by USCJ. Started by Lovitt, the Inclusion Committee at Beth Torah has grown to more than 20 members of both disabled and non-disabled members of the community. The committee has effectuated improvements to the synagogue such as large print prayer books, an automatic door, an outdoor ramp, railings leading up to the bima, and handicap-accessible bathrooms in order to make the synagogue more easily accessible. “The membership has embraced the idea of meeting people where they are and removing the barriers to synagogue membership,” said Lovitt. “And that’s the message — to remove barriers,” she continued.
Though Beth Torah’s Inclusion Initiative is still relatively new, inclusion has been a longtime value of the congregation. No family is more appreciative of that than the Kormans, whose son Jacob is a person with a disability himself. When they moved to Dallas in the 1980s, Sarah and Ira struggled to find a school that could provide a Jewish education to Jacob. CBT accepted the Kormans with open arms. The synagogue helped Jacob prepare for his bar mitzvah, matching him with a tutor Sarah calls a “perfect match” and Jacob proudly declares he is still “good friends” with.
“In 1984, acceptance of people with disabilities was not universal. We had a difficult time finding a synagogue to educate Jacob. Beth Torah appealed to us not only because they accepted Jacob, but (also) since then, has had a unique attitude toward people less fortunate and those with disabilities,” said Sarah. “I think that was the underlying motivation to join the synagogue and to stay involved and provide for the next generation,” she continued.
The Kormans are integral members of the Inclusion Committee and of the CBT community. Sarah has also served as a teacher at the learning center and has given lectures sharing the stories of her parents who are both Holocaust survivors, among many other roles at the synagogue. Ira, who has a doctorate in psychology and has done consulting around the country, gives presentations on topics such as communication, grief, resiliency, and the healthcare system. Jacob is skilled with technology, helping facilitate the synagogue’s live streamed services.
The Kormans have been invaluable members of Beth Torah, and to honor their contributions, the Inclusion Committee voted unanimously to rename the Inclusion Fund after their family. “We were totally surprised when (Zelene) contacted us to rename the Inclusion Fund after our family. Not something we ever considered,” said Ira. “It’s an appreciation for what we have contributed, but we’ve only been able to contribute (because of everyone else on the committee); everyone’s name deserves to be on it,” he added.
CBT aims to foster an environment of inclusivity, where all are welcome. “Our congregation is kind to one another and cares for one another. It’s comfortable and accepting. Inclusion Committee continues to strengthen that whole idea. There aren’t that many synagogues doing what we are, and it’s primarily because of Zelene. She started it and has made it stronger,” said Sarah. “We are just part of a group who care about others and we feel fortunate to be a part.”
Jewish Disability Awareness Acceptance & Inclusion Month events activities
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is hosting a full month of FREE virtual education, awareness and empowerment opportunities in support of people with disabilities through JFNA programming. There are 15 different webinars to choose from at a variety of different days and times throughout the month. Hear from thought leaders and experts about the current state of disability rights, and what can be done to promote the best inclusion and supportive care practices. Learn new advocacy strategies and take action to put the needs and rights of people with disabilities squarely on the policy agenda of the Biden administration and the 117th Congress.
Register at https://www.jewishtogether.org/JDAM to access the list of webinars.
Movie Night with the Special Needs Partnership
Monday, Feb. 8
RSVP for Movie Discussion
‘Far From The Tree’
This year’s SNP Movie Night will be book-club style! Watch “Far From The Tree” on your own time before Feb. 8, then join a live discussion of the movie over Zoom, facilitated by members of the Jewish Family Service Special Needs Partnership Committee.
Based on The New York Times bestseller by Andrew Solomon, “Far From the Tree” is an intimate, profoundly human look at families raising children society deems “abnormal.” Tracing their joys, challenges, tragedies, and triumphs, Far From the Tree invites viewers to rethink what it means to be a “normal family.”
The movie can be found on Hulu and can be viewed via subscription or free trial.
The endeavor of Parents Empowered Raising Kids (PERK) is to create social and support connections between adults who are raising children with special needs. PERK events are facilitated by professionals from the JFS Special Needs Resource Team and are designed to give parents tools and support for everyday challenges.
Loneliness — How to Help Our Children Make Friends
Thursday, Feb. 11
Children with special needs often feel socially isolated and have difficulty making friends with peers. But they shouldn’t have to feel hopeless about making friends. Join us in exploring ways that we as parents can help our children enjoy others and make friends.
Speaker: Janet Henson
Janet Henson is a licensed clinician with Jewish Family Service specializing in teenagers and young adult populations. Janet brings 30 years’ experience in private practice, community mental health and full-time ministry.
Expectations and Acceptance of our Children and Ourselves
Thursday, Feb. 25
Expectations play a large role in the acceptance of our children and our own parental abilities. In this discussion, we will learn how to manage those expectations as we navigate the journey of raising a child with special needs.
Speaker: Terah Culp
Terah Culp works as a clinical therapist at Jewish Family Service in Dallas. She uses her training in attachment to help families, couples and children find acceptance, contentment and healing. Her passion is helping adults and children with anxiety overcome life challenges and find freedom in life. She and her husband live in the Dallas area with their adult son, who is on the autism spectrum and has mild cerebral palsy.
To be added to the monthly distribution list for PERK, and to RSVP for the event, email email@example.com.
Congregation Anshai Torah’s Special Needs Shabbat
Friday, Feb. 12
Congregation Anshai Torah will hold a Special Needs Shabbat service with guest speaker Rabbi Artson.
Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president of American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Rabbi Artson has long been a passionate advocate for social justice, human dignity, diversity and inclusion. He has two children, one of whom is severely autistic.
Rabbi Artson will deliver a d’var Torah titled “Inclusion of Every Ability: My House is a House of Prayer for All People.”
To stream the service, watch on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3tnZYES.
Congregation Beth Torah’s Special Needs Shabbat
Saturday, Feb. 13
Join Congregation Beth Torah as they host an Inclusive Shabbat, at which time the Korman Family — Sarah, Ira and Jacob — will be recognized for their consistent and devoted support of Congregation Beth Torah inclusion efforts. The CBT Inclusion Fund has been renamed the Korman Family Inclusion Fund in their honor.
You can also tune in to any Shabbat in the month of February to hear Inclusion Bytes, short videos recorded by congregants regarding different aspects of CBT’s inclusion programming.
Services are livestreamed on Congregation Beth Torah’s website. Go to https://bit.ly/3rftmvh at 9:30 a.m. to watch.
For questions regarding the livestream, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregation Shearith Israel’s Zoom Bingo Bash
Sunday, Feb. 14
Jewish Family Service and Congregation Shearith Israel have invited Community Homes for Adults, Inc. (CHAI) residents to join the Special Needs Partnership for a Bingo Bash in honor of Special Needs Awareness Month and Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. Snacks and prizes will be provided, so we plan on bringing the FUN!
For questions, contact Sarah Lipinsky at email@example.com.
Wednesday, Feb. 17
An ADHD diagnosis is not a life-sentence! During this session, Hilary Stern will help parents identify ways to make living with a child with ADHD or ADHD symptoms more manageable and enjoyable for everyone in the household, while also raising awareness and dispelling myths about the disorder. Participants will walk away with an in-depth understanding of ADHD and tips and tools that can be easily implemented.
Presenter: Hilary Stern
Hilary K. Stern, M.Ed., CALC, is a Certified ADHD Life Coach, an ADHD Consultant and the founder of ADHD Advance Coaching and Consulting LLC. She has been an educator both in and out of the classroom for almost 20 years, and her passion to meet the needs of all learners has been among her top priorities. Her professional journey took a new path as one of her own four children’s ADHD diagnosis came to light.
Hilary’s mission as an ADHD Life Coach and Consultant is to guide her clients to embrace who they are and what they are capable of achieving. She offers teacher, corporate and parent workshops on ADHD, conducts parent coaching groups, and provides one-to-one coaching and consulting for students, parents and adults with ADHD or ADHD symptoms. RSVP for the Workshop at https://bit.ly/36D622D.
Strengthening Student Engagement: Ways to Reduce Stress and Build Connections
Sunday, Feb. 21
Released at 6 p.m.
Engaging students who are miles away necessitates a new set of teaching strategies requiring teachers to adapt to a host of exhausting new challenges. This presentation will explore strategies to strengthen student engagement as well as suggestions for reducing teacher and student stress that may be exacerbating the challenges of distance learning and social distancing as a whole.
Dr. Bonny Stewart is a Licensed Psychologist, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, and Registered Play Therapy Supervisor. Dr. Stewart has extensive experience and expertise in assessment, play therapy, consultation, and evidence-based interventions.
Dr. Emily Angus is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) who specializes in play therapy, child-teacher relationship training, and psychoeducational/diagnostic evaluation. Through her role as a Child and Adolescent Clinician at JFS, Emily serves as a school counselor for students as well as a consultant for teachers within the Jewish day schools in the Dallas area.
Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Ener serves as coordinator of Children’s Services at Jewish Family Service and is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor. Dr. Ener has extensive experience and expertise in play therapy, assessment, and counselor education/supervision.
Virtual Faith Inclusion Network Conference
Friday, Feb. 26
8 a.m.–2 p.m.
One of the biggest challenges and needs for individuals and families affected by disability is finding inclusive, strong communities where they can belong and thrive. Please join the Faith Inclusion Network community as we come together to learn how to strengthen communities in congregations, learn from self-advocates and share the most recent knowledge of inclusion in faith communities and congregations, including how faith communities have made adjustments through the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants will have access to over 30 presentations with presenters from the US, Canada and Australia.
Tickets start at $25. Register for the conference at https://bit.ly/36Ax9eR.
The Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas Special Needs Partnership has compiled a comprehensive list of local, state and national resources for those with special needs.
Please note that the following resource guide is an accumulation of JFS’ own research and is not an endorsement of any particular organization. This list is non-exhaustive and will continue to be updated as more resources come to the attention of JFS.
Download the Resource Guide at https://bit.ly/3pHhdPy.