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Nava R. Silton, Ph.D

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Jews With Special Needs Prepare for a Rite of Passage

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A collection of stories, experiences and uplifting tales regarding the world of disabilities and the individuals who have them.

Jews With Special Needs Prepare for a Rite of Passage

Nava Silton

Having a bar or bat mitzvah is a rite of passage for most 12 and 13 year old Jewish boys and girls. Most people just perceive this as a huge party, but it also includes learning and chanting Hebrew in front of a group of people, learning Jewish traditions and completing a community service or Mitzvah project. Individuals with special needs too often miss out on this grand experience and introduction into Jewish adulthood, because of their learning disabilities. These individuals observe their family and friends having Bar and Bat mitzvahs and are haunted by the fact that they can’t have the same. Dr. Mark Sandberg saw this disappointment in four of the residents at Giant Step, a residential program on Long Island. This inspired Sandberg to propose a belated b’nai mitzvah, the plural term, for the four young adults now in their twenties and thirties. Each student was paired up with two tutors, one for Hebrew and one for Jewish traditions. The tutors adjusted their teaching style to meet the unique needs of the special needs students. The young adults also took part in community service. They collected money in a Tzedakah box that they then donated to a charity of their choice as well as made sandwiches for a local soup kitchen. Additionally, they received a dance lesson at the Dix Hill Jewish Center where their B’nai Mitzvah would be held. This allowed them to become comfortable with the environment before all of the people would arrive. They danced to popular songs such as “Whip/Nae Nae” and traditional Jewish songs such as the Hora. About 200 people will fill the synagogue for the service. I think that Rabbi Buechler said it best when he said “their bar and bat mitzvah is showing that God’s love and the portals of our synagogue and every synagogue are open to everyone.”

Read the Full NY Times Article Here