Kvell and Tell – January 18 2020 – B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah

B’nei Mitzvah With Disabilities Find Their Way to the Bimah
by Rahel Musleah
(excerpted from Hadassah Magazine, to read full article CLICK HERE)

…some synagogues and organizations have created inclusive programs. At Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, Calif., another URJ exemplar congregation, children with disabilities are integrated with other children, echoing the trend in general education. “Everyone was present at Sinai, including people with special needs,” says Rabbi Paul Kipnes, 55, who runs the b’nei mitzvah program. “You come with the kid and we work with you. It’s so ‘non-special’ that I don’t even notice it anymore,” he adds, noting that he has taught a child with autism to sound the shofar and another who is deaf to sign his Torah portion. Adaptability and creativity are key, he says. However, experts emphasize that it is also essential that educators have the right training and tools available to ensure that all the children involved in an integrated classroom benefit—not just those with special needs.

For his part, Kipnes held hands on the bimah with Jacob Gilbert, who has autism, sensory disorder, intellectual disabilities and social ineptness and needs touch pressure to calm his body. Jacob’s teacher held his arm and rubbed his back when he chanted Torah, haftarah and other prayers, and when Jacob sat down, he interlaced hands with the rabbi’s. It brought everyone to tears, says his mother, Heather Gilbert-Bakalor, 45, an early childhood educator.

Jacob is now in the synagogue’s youth group. “His bar mitzvah was the shining moment of his life,” his mother says. “It opened up his potential. He knows what he’s capable of now.” 

CLICK HERE to read the full article