Shabbaton Brings Westville Synagogue Members Together With People With Disabilities

Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

NEW HAVEN — By the time Jason Lieberman, director of community and government affairs for Yachad, the National Council for Jewish Disabilities, finished telling the story of Miri and the horse, the men, women and children of the Westville Synagogue were in tears.

Lieberman spoke of 26-year-old Miri, who always wanted to ride a horse, but had always been denied the right due to poor muscle control. One day, reports Lieberman, the Yachad group went horseback riding. The advisors heard Miri’s pleas to ride a horse and saw her tears, so they moved into action.

“With one advisor in front of Miri, and one behind her, and two advisors on either side, we got Miri on the horse,” Lieberman recalled. “It took 25 minutes to get her on and 25 minutes to get her off, and she rode for all of five minutes, but Miri finally realized her dream. Her mother called the office later that day, in tears, to express her appreciation.”

Westvillle Synagogue recently hosted members of Yachad for this Shabbaton weekend, which included an evening of Carlebach-style davening, dinner, divrei Torah, singing and dancing.

A total of 175 congregants, Yachad members and college students from Yeshiva University and Stern College’s “Torah Tours” came together for Shabbat dinner at the synagogue together before members of the shul, who had opened their homes to 35 New York and Boston area Yachad members, had to rush to the synagogue to shuttle their guests to their homes minutes before Shabbat began.

Adults from the synagogue ate, sang and danced together at the Friday night dinner and children stayed in shul all day to interact with the Yachad group. The Shabbaton continued when everyone returned to the synagogue one hour after Shabbat for a magic show, musical performance and ice cream sundaes.

At an address to the congregation, Jason Lieberman, who ascended the bimah with his two metal crutches, shared the history of Yachad and its range of services to members of the Jewish community with special needs. He spoke of the philosophy of inclusion and what it truly means to be inclusive.

Lieberman thanked the congregation for making the participants at the

New Haven Shabbaton feel so included.

“Yachad means together,” said Lieberman. “That is what Yachad is all about!”

Nechama Cheses, Yachad’s New England coordinator, is a veteran of such Shabbatons. She helped coordinate a similar Shabbaton three years ago and contacted the synagogue to see if another larger Shabbaton might be possible.

“We wanted to bring the two groups together, to interact with their counterparts in another city,” notes Cheses. Program Director Sarah Galena of Rayim Yachad, the group for Yachad members over age 25, agreed.

“Yachad’s purpose is to bring the community and people with disabilities together,” reports Galena. “The Westville community welcomed us, accepted us and embraced us.”

Community member Larry Pinsky stopped by to visit with his brother, Steve, who was a participant on the Yachad Shabbaton. And Yachad members, Mordechai David, 39, and his wife of four years, Tova David, summed up their favorite part of the Shabbaton by saying, “The best part of the Shabbaton was meeting new people!”

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