HAR HaShem will hold a Shabbat service that will be run a little looser than typical services, with participants able to move about and make noise and the only rule will be: “No Shushing.”
The Nov. 15 service, believed to be the first of its kind at a Boulder-area synagogue, will feature spread out chairs, lower lights, time to touch the Torah, simple prayers and singing and will be especially geared toward those families with a family member who has a disability or special needs.
The 6 p.m. service will be 45 minutes instead of the usual 75-minutes, and 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 be-tzelem El-him, in the Divine image,” says Rabbi Joshua Rose, 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 toward affirming these Jewish values.”
The service is open to the entire community and everyone is encouraged to attend.
At the end of the service, occupational therapist Lois Hickman will speak about why a “no-shushing” service is important, and explain why it’s difficult for people with sensory issues to sit still and how their behavior is not a reflection of parenting.
Hickman was a recipient of the Marjorie Ball Award of Merit by the Occupational Therapy Assn. of Colorado, the highest honor in occupational therapy in Colorado.
The idea for this service came after some parents of children with disabilities wrote stories about not feeling welcome at synagogue and church services, says Har HaShem inclusion committee leader, Susan Glairon.
These stories were displayed at tables at an inclusion event at Har HaShem in October, 2012.
Although their children were unable to sit still or keep quiet because of their disabilities, they were asked by other congregants to leave the services. In many cases, the parents subsequently left the church or synagogue permanently.
Glairon also said one parent spoke to Rabbi Rose about her desire to have a service where her autistic child could move freely.
“Parents of children with disabilities face a lot of stress in their lives,” said Glairon, 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.”
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 Colorado’s Jewish Disability Network, child care, a craft project and a resource fair.
In March, Har HaShem brought in Shelly Christensen, a consultant to Sacred Communities and an 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.
Since then Glairon started an inclusion committee at Har HaShem, 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.