Jewish Special Needs Men and Women Receive Rite of Passage


Bar and bat mitzvahs made possible for students with cognitive disabilities.

Conservative Judaism states that a boy and a girl attain bar mitzvah at different ages, 13 and 12 respectively. However, for individuals with special needs, this can be pretty tough. This is because the ceremony requires the recitation of Hebrew and the learning of Jewish traditions, which is challenging for people with cognitive disabilities. People considered differently abled are generally not included.

Jewish Special Needs Men and Women Receive Rite of Passage[/tweetthis]

Four young adults, all of them between 24 and 30 years-old, and suffering from cognitive disabilities, has done the function and had become the b'nai mitzvah, the plural term for bar mitzvah, on July 8. The program was proposed by Dr. Mark Sandberg, who sits on the Dix Hills Jewish Center, and also a psychologist practicing at Giant Step, a special needs residential program. The proposal was made after he heard the sad talk of residents when they missed a ritual which their cousins, sisters and brothers passed through.

One of the special students was Jordan Levy, 24 years of age, who said that the bar mitzvah he did put the function’s essence into him and made him a much better person. During lessons, he learned a lot about charity. Levy subsequently made a tzedakah box, basically a can that was covered by colored paper for decoration. This handicraft was employed to collect any spare change. He subsequently filled the box with money and donated it to a pancreatic cancer foundation. This is close to him as his father died from the same disease in 2010.

David Finkelstein, who is the founder and director of Giant Step, was immediately supportive when the b'nai mitzvah was proposed by Dr. Sandberg. The other three students have also donated money from their respective tzedakah boxes. Jamie Metzger, a student aged 30 years old, had donated money to the cause of breast cancer research. She did that to honor her aunt, a survivor of cancer.

The students, post lunch, took turns in Torah chanting. It was done in the Hebrew language and Levy took his skullcap off to play the drums for the audience present in the room. The drum beat has helped him to memorize lines from Torah. The students had a team of tutors, with each student getting two tutors. One tutor taught Hebrew, the other Jewish tradition. Each tutor has found a number of creative ways to make their students learn.

Almost 200 people filled the synagogue for the rituals that took place this past weekend


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