Synagogue Inclusion: A Mother and Her Son Say Why It Matters rss
In 2012 Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan received UJA-Federation’s Synagogue Inclusion Award. The awards, given annually, recognize synagogues that create inclusive programming for people with disabilities. Through the award, UJA-Federation highlights the need for our community to open doors and embrace people with autism or other disabilities.
Roberta Lowenstein and her son Joey, 16, who was diagnosed with autism at age two-and-a-half, are members of Rodeph Sholom and often attend inclusion services on Shabbat and holidays, led by Rabbi Ben Spratt. Here Roberta and Joey share what these services have meant to them. Joey shared his responses by spelling out his words on a letter board, a technique he learned at age 14 through the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM).
Why did you go to Congregation Rodeph Sholom?
Roberta: About two years ago Joey started asking questions about his dad, who passed away almost 10 years ago. I asked one of Joey’s doctors, “What do I do?” He said, “You need a spiritual person.” And I had read in the paper that Rodeph Sholom was having special needs services. It rang a bell, too, because that was the temple I had gone to as a child. My parents were married there in 1948. I reached out to the temple and they put me in touch with Rabbi Spratt. I went to see him and Rabbi Spratt was very welcoming and had Joey come in. We started going to the special needs services, which were very welcoming, warm.
Why do you enjoy services at Congregation Rodeph Sholom?
Roberta: Other synagogues have welcomed Joey, but Rodeph Sholom is very special in that there are a lot of other people besides Joey who have special needs. You don’t feel like you’re singled out or that people are looking at you. I just enjoy seeing everyone enjoying themselves and being part of it. There’s a gentleman who plays the guitar and there’s singing and dancing and following the Torah and all of the kids gather around.
What do you enjoy at Congregation Rodeph Sholom?
Joey: Rodeph Sholom lets me connect to God and to the intelligent, interesting Jewish community.
What is your favorite part of the service?
Joey: The singing and instant joy is young-hearted and open-minded, wonderful, cool, and fun. And Rabbi Ben is the nicest guy ever.
What does it mean to you to participate in the Rodeph Sholom Congregation?
Joey: It’s nice to have a service where anything goes, and I can be myself and clap loud without feeling embarrassed. Very connected to the congregation is how I feel.