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How Does Your Synagogue Welcome Your Child?
This is the time of year when Jews spend a lot of time in synagogues. And when parents are in shuls and temples, so are their children. Or are they?
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Unfortunately, many houses of worship are less than welcoming to young members who require wheelchairs or other medical equipment. There’s the physical challenge of getting into the building or the sanctuary: small rooms, old buildings built before ramps were required, women’s sections in balconies that are inaccessible and/or a lack of elevators can make it impossible for any but the most able-bodied to enter. (Children aren’t the only people in wheelchairs. Elderly men and women who use walkers and wheelchairs can also be “locked out.”) In my synagogue, a young woman who is blind requires not only a chair to sit in, but a place for her Braille prayer books (which come in a set of 23 volumes for the High Holidays) and a lectern to place them. Not every synagogue has that amount of real estate to spare.
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A recent blog post from the Ruderman Foundation noted that children who attend camps for the ill or disabled often return home to a world where they are once again on the sidelines. Those whose families attend services on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and/or the festivals of Sukkos and Simchas Torah sometimes feel a keen disconnect between the inclusion of summer camp and the world of the synagogue, which ideally should offer a haven to all. The Ruderman Foundation has built partnerships and provided grants to organizations of all denominational and non-denominational stripes to foster the inclusion of ill and disabled children and adults. But changes, whether physical or attitudinal, can be slow.
How was your child welcomed into synagogue this year? What were the positives? What could be improved? What would you advise your rabbi or board about making the synagogue an easier place for ill children and their families to navigate?
P.S. Here’s something to start your synagogue board thinking: low cost ways to make synagogues more welcoming to the disabled.