Felicia Lebewohl Rosen, whose sons participate in Shelanu, a program for young Jewish adults on the autism spectrum.
For Jewish young adults on the autism spectrum in Westchester, Shelanu is a program that offers events, friendship, and community. Funded by UJA and operated by our nonprofit partner Westchester Jewish Community Services, Shelanu (Hebrew for “Ours”) started in 2014. We talked with Felicia Lebewohl Rosen about why Shelanu is important to her sons who have participated since the program began.
(Q) Why did your sons, Evan and Eitan, become involved with Shelanu?
(A) Our sons, Evan now 26 and Eitan now 24, are both on the autism spectrum with what used to be identified as Asperger’s. Few services are available when young people with disabilities graduate from high school and leave the school system. There’s a real need, a real void. Shelanu provided a place where Evan and Eitan could go, hang out, feel comfortable and accepted.
(Q) What do Evan and Eitan especially enjoy at Shelanu?
(A) The monthly Shabbat dinners. Our family always had Shabbat meals with our sons when they were growing up. Now Shelanu creates the opportunity for Evan and Eitan to have Shabbat dinners with friends. It’s meaningful for them and a big difference from having a Shabbat meal with parents.
(Q) As a parent, what does Shelanu mean for you?
(A) It’s especially significant for me to know that my Jewish values have spread to my sons. When they go to the Shabbat dinners, they are making their own decision to attend. It’s not me imposing on them. Evan and Eitan are incorporating these values into their lives. Shelanu makes it possible for them to actively do so.
(Q) Anything else you’d like us to know about Evan and Eitan?
(A) Evan and Eitan now share an apartment in Westchester, and family lives nearby for support. Evan and Eitan are both matriculated at Purchase College. Evan’s studying education and biology with a minor in Judaic Studies, and Eitan’s majoring in history. Evan likes being out in the community. Eitan doesn’t, he’s comfortable staying in his room with his books and computer. But with Shelanu, he never needs encouragement to go. Eitan keeps dates of the Shelanu activities, everything from Shabbat dinners to cooking classes, and he goes. Both Evan and Eitan love going to Shelanu: somewhere to meet friends, that’s their own.