What is is that they say about the children in Lake Wobegon? ”… where all the children are above average.” Of course, when every child is special then no child is special, and that’s the way it is supposed to be. At this past weekend’s CRUSY kinnus at Beth El in Pittsburgh, every child was warmly received and brought into the program. There were no special needs. There was only a conscious effort to provide everything that was needed to make the program fully inclusive and accessible.
This post is my periodic plea to congregations to consider what it takes to be accessible to a blind person who happens to walk through your door on Shabbat. It doesn’t take much. This year, Beth El’s inclusion committee decided to purchase a set of the Braille volumes of Sim Shalom and Torah. They actually only needed to acquire five of the nine volumes of the siddur in order to satisfy the needs of a regular Kabbalat Shabbat, Shaharit, Minha, and weekday morning. Knowing that they were hosting the kinnus, they also purchased the volume of Torah and the haftarah for that specific Shabbat. All of this is easily available from the Jewish Braille Institute.
When my son Solomon arrived at kinnus, he was not special. He dovened just like everybody else, with his Braille siddur. He went up to the Bima and led Torah service. It was no big deal. He just participated in leading a part of the service, something that a couple dozen USY’ers did over the course of the weekend.
However, it was a big deal to his father who was standing in the back of the sanctuary with tears running down his cheeks, because at that moment his son was not special. Like thousands of youth before him, he was given the honor and privilege of participating in a Shabbat with his USY friends.
One day, Solomon might show up at your synagogue. When he does, are you going to make him feel ‘special’ by requiring him to bring his own very bulky set of books, or are you going to make him feel like a part of the congregation by giving him a book, just as you will undoubtedly do for every other person who walks in?
For more detailed information on how to order a standard Shabbat set of Braille volumes, contact me at Rabbi@AhavasIsraelGR.org.