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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Successful Congregational Disability Programs

Many URJ congregations have successful disability and special needs programs listed in the Communicate! program bank.

Visit Communicate! and search "disabilities" to find more programs like these, or submit your own by sending an email with the program summary to

A Welcoming Community: Developing and Implementing an Inclusion Model
Temple Sinai (937 households), Oakland, CA
“We created a Diversity Think Tank to gain clarity on what it means to be a welcoming community. We want to identify and enact strategies for improved inclusion of the member of our community who are traditionally marginalized, including families who have members with physical or learning disabilities.”

Access Committee
Temple Sinai (937 households), Oakland, CA
“Our Access Committee created a detailed, two-part plan: (1) Focus on creating a more sensitive environment to ensure that all those with specific access concerns feel welcome and able to participate in synagogue life; and (2) Prioritize the structural improvements necessary…to make the building as accessible as possible.”

Sensitivity Awareness Workshops
Temple Sinai (937 households), Oakland, CA
“Workshops are designed to give students in the religious school interactive experiences that will help them learn about themselves and people with disabilities.”

Handicapped Accessibility Survey

Congregation Children of Israel (142 households), Augusta, GA
“Our 8th graders conducted an extensive handicapped accessibility survey throughout our facility. They measured doors, counted large-print prayer books and assessed the accessibility of ramps. Once the kids completed the survey, they chose one improvement that needed to be made and raised money to accomplish that goal.”

Chalutzim: A Jewish Life-Cycle Project
Temple Shalom (409 households), Aberdeen, NJ
“An educator with special education credentials and a teaching assistant established this project for students who are learning disabled. Each group of students wrote and illustrated a filmstrip through which they demonstrated their awareness of the various customs and ceremonies related to a Jew’s celebration of life. The media focus helped students enhance their social skills as well as those related to communication.”

Project Tikvah
Holy Blossom Temple (2016 households), Toronto, ONT
“This project was established to provide Hebrew language instruction for students with learning disabilities. It provided learners with very small group settings in which instruction could be focused on an individual’s distinct learning style.”

Special Needs Awareness Day
Temple Emanuel (696 households), Beverly Hills, CA
“At this all-day conference, parents circulated among resource booths devoted to educational, financial and medical services for people with disabilities, and attended a series of forum discussions, all while their children participated in puppet shows, art workshops and library sessions that highlighted a variety of disability themes.”

The Learning Center

Woodlands Community Temple (456 households), White Plains, NY
“The Learning Center exists in order to meet the individual needs of learners (developmentally delayed, a variety of classified learning disabilities, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, et al.) when classroom instruction is not enough and, subsequently, enables these students to be mainstreamed into the regular Hebrew and Jewish studies program.”

Feeling and Being Jewish: A Time for Sensitivity  
Temple B’rith Kodesh (1132 households), Rochester, NY 
“This weekend of programming included a Shabbat service (with an interpreter for the hearing impaired) during which all congregants were involved with a creative dance exercise; an Oneg Shabbat that provided resources to help people understand the essence of disabilities; adult study devoted to a review of Jewish texts related to disabilities; and panel discussions with people who have special needs and/or disabilities.”

Temple Judea Parenting Center
Temple Judea (954 households), Tarzana, CA
“This program is designed for infants and toddlers who have or who are at risk for developmental delays and/or disabilities. It is staffed by a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, a Pediatric Speech and Language Pathologist, a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor and an Early Childhood Specialist. Working together as a tem, these people integrate all disciplines into daily routines, recognizing the value and unique nature of every child.”

Jewish Education for the Deaf 
Temple Shalom of Newton (788 households), Newton, MA
“This program is designed to deliver Jewish educational services to children who are deaf within the context of a regular religious school environment. Open to the community, families are not required to join the synagogue and pay only the standard religious school tuition. Students are provided with sign language interpreters in classes, services, family programs, weekend retreats and holiday celebrations.”

The Full Inclusion Preschool Project
Temple Bat Yam, Newport Beach CA

The Full Inclusion Preschool Project (FIPP) is based on the philosophy that all children belong in a fully inclusive, general education environment no matter their challenges or special needs. Funded by private organizations and donors, FIPP’s goal is to enable children with special needs to actively participate in the same classroom with their typically developing peers. Our program offers services to toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners with — or at risk of — developmental delays or other disabilities.

Special Needs Hebrew Program – Believing, Belonging, Behaving
Temple Dor Dorim, Weston FL
Using Hebrew as a Judaic value the teacher will, at all times, set herself up as a “role model”, “a living example” to her students instilling in them first and foremost a positive feeling about being Jewish. The teacher will individualize her lessons every day and remember that the major goal is to create a positive feeling about being a Jew within her students, regardless of their academic abilities.

Synagogue Based Initiative for Teens with Developmental Challenges: Yad b’Yad
Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains NY

The program we have created will fill the void which currently exists for Jewish teens with developmental challenges in Westchester County. This is a population that desperately needs to learn a large repertoire of life and social skills—abilities that most teens understand and take for granted. In order to generalize these skills, special needs teens need lots of opportunities to practice these life and social skills and a lot of arenas to practice them in—a need that secular schools can’t possibly have the time to fill. This program recognizes the importance of peer mentoring and inclusion not only for the teens with special needs, but also for the wonderful learning opportunity it provides for the typically developing teens.

A House of Prayer for All People
Temple Beth Shalom, Santa Ana CA
This program brought together representatives from eight Orange County congregations. Becca Hornstein, the keynote speaker, addressed how to create a welcoming congregation. Since this workshop one congregation has created an Inclusion Committee, and two unaffiliated families with children with special needs have been connected to congregations for b’nei mitzvah preparation.



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