Congregation Har HaShem will be holding a Shabbat service that will be a little more relaxed than typical services, with participants able to move about and make noise, and the only rule will be “No Shushing.”
The November 15 service, believed to be the first of its kind at a Boulder-area synagogue, will be helpful to those with sensory, mental health or cognitive disabilities that affect the ability to sit still or stay quiet, said Susan Glairon, head of Har HaShem’s Inclusion committee. “We want everyone to feel like they can be themselves,” said Glairon. “Too often families don’t bring their special needs children or adult children to religious services because they are afraid they will make noise.” The 6 p.m. service, which is open to the entire community, will feature spread out chairs, lower lights, time to touch the Torah, simple prayers and singing and and will be 45 minutes instead of the usual 75-minute service. It will be followed by a dessert oneg, where parents can meet and network with other parents and therapists who may be at the service.
We learn that every person is created btzelem elohim, in the divine image,” said Rabbi Joshua Rose, Congregation Har HaShem’s Senior Rabbi. “And Jews believe that praying in community is fundamental to spiritual life. So, synagogues must create opportunities for people with disabilities or special needs to pray along with their community. This service is an important step towards affirming these Jewish values.”
The idea for this service came after some parents of children with disabilities wrote stories about not feeling welcome at synagogue and church services, Glairon said. These stories were displayed during an inclusion event at Congregation Har HaShem in October 2012. Although the children were unable to sit still and/or keep quiet because of their disabilities, other congregants asked them to leave the services, and in many cases, the parents left the church or synagogue permanently. One parent spoke to Rabbi Rose about her desire to have a service where her autistic child could move freely, relayed Glairon.
Parents of children with disabilities face a lot of stress in their lives,” said Glairon, who is also a parent of a 21-year-old with autism. “Synagogues are a perfect place for support, but sometimes congregants and staff who don’t have a child with a disability may not understand the stresses parents face and how difficult it is for someone with a disability to follow the rules of staying seated or quiet.”
Congregation Har HaShem has been a leader in the inclusion movement for people with disabilities. In October 2012, the Boulder synagogue held a filled-to-capacity community-wide inclusion event that approximately 350 people attended. The event featured a talk and book signing by nationally known autism activist Dr. Temple Grandin, as well as a parent panel, a presentation by the Jewish Disability Network, child care, a craft project and a resource fair. In March, Har HaShem brought in Shelly Christensen, a nationally known Consultant to Sacred Communities and author, who led an-all-day workshop for staff from approximately 25 local synagogues, Jewish organizations and agencies, and another workshop for Jewish educators and teachers. She also spoke at Friday night services and attended a parent dinner as well as led a discussion after the movie “Wretches & Jabberers” was shown at Har HaShem.
Since then Glairon started an inclusion committee at HHS, and there are currently 10 members. The group hopes to offer more Shabbat services as well as future speakers on the topic of Judaism and disability. The group also plans to assess the synagogue’s current level of inclusivity and find ways for the synagogue to improve access for people with a wide variety of disabilities.