MetroWest ABLE honors local synagogues
In the sanctuary at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, the first area synagogue to meet MetroWest ABLE’s requirements to be considered a fully accessible congregation, are, from left, Cantor Joan Finn, Rabbi Daniel Cohen, Cantor Ted Aronson, and Rabbi Ellie Miller. Photo courtesy Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
November 24, 2010
Five area synagogues are being honored for becoming fully accessible to congregants with disabilities, meeting a challenge set by MetroWest ABLE, a Jewish community coalition advocating for individuals with disabilities and their families.
All five synagogues responded to a stringent checklist provided by MetroWest ABLE. Improvements ranged from removing physical barriers — retrofitting doors, bathrooms, and water fountains — to providing accessible services in their religious schools, youth groups, and adult education programs.
“We hope this will be an impetus to other congregations to come along,” said MetroWest ABLE committee member Cynthia Plishtin. “It’s wonderful these congregations have undertaken and completed these tasks. It’s a very rigorous process, but they’ve done it to make the synagogues a place for every Jew.”
The five award-winning synagogues are Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, and Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange.
Sharey Tefilo-Israel, the first to apply and fulfill all the requirements, will be presented with its ABLE award at the Dec. 8 meeting of its board.
Congregation officials there said the congregation has been addressing accessibility issues for at least 17 years, when Rabbi Daniel Cohen made it the subject of one of his first sermons at the synagogue. Since then, they’ve tackled everything from installing a ramp up to the bima and replacing all the pews with removable chairs, to creating a self-contained religious school for youngsters with serious disabilities who cannot be mainstreamed.
“Everyone has a place in our congregation. I think it makes us more compassionate,” said Rabbi Ellie Miller, a member of the synagogue’s clergy who spearheaded the effort to fulfill the award requirements. She called becoming totally accessible “a moral and religious imperative.”
The awards are a culmination of an effort begun with a synagogue self-assessment tool created by MetroWest ABLE a year ago to encourage synagogues to take a hard look at accessibility.
“It was an opportunity for congregations to look within, to see in which areas they were doing well and where they could improve,” said Rebecca Wanatick, community coordinator for MetroWest ABLE. The self-assessment, a checklist for the physical plant and practices of the synagogues, led to a decision to recognize those congregations that met the rigorous requirements.
MetroWest ABLE will continue to give the ABLE Awards on a rolling basis as synagogues meet the criteria.
“As much as every other Jew, the special needs population should really have access to worship and be able to participate in all synagogue activities,” said Plishtin.
The participating bodies of MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging and Life Enrichment for People and Families with Special Needs) are MetroWest agencies Daughters of Israel, Friendship Circle, JESPY House, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, Joint Chaplaincy Committee, and The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life.
Special-needs resources fair
The MetroWest ABLE Special Needs Resource Fair & Symposium drew over 150 family members, service providers, and educators to the Aidekman campus in Whippany on Nov. 14. The day featured over 35 community resources and several break-out sessions. Ellen Sabin, author of The Special Needs Acceptance Book and The Autism Acceptance Book, delivered a keynote address on Community Inclusion.
MetroWest ABLE is the community’s network of lay leaders and professionals supporting and advocating for individuals with special needs and their families.
MetroWest ABLE chair Mort Bunis said he heard from one parent about “the wonderful feeling he had that there are now so many programs and activities in the community serving the special-needs population” and that through ABLE, United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ “was providing the direction and the support to help them make their journey through life.”
Lori Solomon, the mother of a child with special needs, said, “It was great to see other moms and dads gathering piles of pamphlets from a wide array of vendors servicing infants to adults. Everyone felt a sense of community.”
“I met some wonderful people,” said Esther Katz of NJ Y Camps. “Not just prospective parents, but also people in the field of special needs. I truly enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that pervaded the room — even those who could be considered ‘competitors’ were openly sharing ideas, plans, and recommendations for what would be the best for the children of our community.”
For more information on MetroWest ABLE programs, contact community coordinator Rebecca Wanatick at 973-929-3129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.