“I went to a bar mitzvah this summer,” said almost nobody.   This has been a very unusual five months for 13 year olds who planned to mark bar or bat mitzvah, for their families, and for their synagogues.  

I have been preparing students for b’nai mitzvah for over 30 years, and on occasion, super extenuating circumstances meant pushing off or moving forward the date of the bar or bat mitzvah.  For example, a very sick relative, a medical need, 9/11.  But that is rare.  Covid-19 had meant hundreds if not thousands of b’nai mitzvahs being postponed or reimagined.

So far, three families I work with have had to put off Israel b’nai mitzvahs.  One Kotel bar mitzvah turned in to a very well attended 120 person all-Zoom bar mitzvah, where the mother, father and bar mitzvah boy sat at the dining room table of their Manhattan apartment, and guests tuned in from their homes all around the world.  The other families have put off Israel for now and have other plans for marking the bar and bat mitzvah in the works.

Another family had planned a Shabbat afternoon bat mitzvah in May.  Instead of being postponed indefinitely, it was simply moved to the following Monday morning, when the same torah portion was read.  It is what I call a “partial Zoom” bat mitzvah.  For the somewhat shy girl, it was the best of all worlds:  Her mother, father, one rabbi, the cantor and I all wore masks in the synagogue chapel, appropriately socially distanced.  A computer sat on a cardboard box on the bima, sharing the simcha on Zoom for all to see.  It was the first time I had worn sort of nice clothes in months!

Several of my tutoring families have changed the date and location several times.  Some held out hope for a socially distanced bat mitzvah at a backyard in the Hamptons, or a bar mitzvah at an indoor restaurant in Manhattan.  But local laws and ordinances for number of guests, indoor vs. outdoor dining, etc. keep changing.  The bat mitzvah is on hold.  The bar mitzvah moved to Connecticut, where rules for dining are different.   Other families have moved their b’nai mitzvah to Western Mass—outdoors, with a homemade siddur and a rented torah.    

The great thing I am seeing is that the students are really good sports.  Their parents are as well.  All may be disappointed; some may be a bit relieved.  Everyone seems to have perspective—this is a happy occasion during a time when so many are experiencing sadness and loss.   It is not the time to travel to Israel but Israel will always be there—maybe next year! 

And I have learned that technology can be a wonderful tool for teaching b’nai mitzvah students.  Facetime has been a wonderful way to have lessons.  Perhaps students in very remote areas can now learn for b’nai mitzvah with experienced teachers, and Zoom may continue to be a useful tool for bringing people together, even when Covid-19 is but a distant memory. 

I look forward to a future generation of perplexed grandchildren, sitting on the laps of grandparents trying to understand just what a “Zoom bar mitzvah” or a “Zoom bat mitzvah” actually was?!  

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Yesterday, I mentioned some wonderful online learning opportunities which address disabilities inclusion.  At the end of the blogpost, I referred to the Kol B'Ramah Podcast.  While it is fun and worthwhile listening to interviews of Amy Skopp Cooper, Ariella Moss Peterseil and Aryeh Kaleder as part of the My Ramah Story, 5 minutes of Torah by Noam Kornsgold, and various episodes of “Pod Across Ramah” (rainy days, birthdays, trips, first days, Shabbat), I have to admit I am a drop partial to the Tikvah Impact Stories.    Yes, it is my first attempt at podcasting, but that is no reason to listen.  The stories of people who have been connected to Tikvah over the years is the reason to listen.

The Tikvah Program was founded in 1970 and has been including people with disabilities at Ramah camps since then.   You will hear from people who were participants and staff in Tikvah—from various eras. 

Yishai Barth is very articulate and brilliant.  He speaks very openly about his disabilities.  He is also a recent graduate of The Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Even hearing about his major is hard to understand!  He constructed his own major in social philosophy and communication theory which drew on courses in many different fields, including communications, philosophy, disability studies, sociology, education/educational philosophy, psychology, and linguistics/psycholinguistics. Are you surprised he is also wrapping up a master’s degree and likely to continue his PhD—in England!  He reports that his studies will “relate to or at the intersection of social philosophy, cultural studies, and political economy.” And Yishai is already far along on a book entitled, “The Theory of Everyone.”

Yishai learned a lot at Ramah New England and on Ramah Israel Seminar—he also taught his bunkmates and the entire community A LOT!

Read more about Yishai here—he has an awesome website, the theoryofeveryone.net 

Check out all of the podcast episodes here

To go directly to the interview with Yishai, click here:  

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We are at the point in dealing w/Covid that we can speak about “silver linings.”  There are so many opportunities for professional growth and enrichment and continuing education, whatever field we are in.   Each day, there are webinars, lectures and podcasts for disabilities inclusion professionals and other interested people.  Some are “one shot deals” and others are offered as part of a series. 

There are even some coming up tonight and tomorrow—and there is still time to register!

 -Tonight at 9 pm ET!  Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School presents a program on “Deafness, Jewish Law, and Inclusion.” Rabbi Dov Linzer headlines the next “Changemakers” on Tuesday, July 14 at 9 p.m. The session will be closed-captioned for those who request it.  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSelKz7qRskPEby4ps-5hRRHxOHkZF2wl1DiSU6zhGCL3ztwhA/viewform

 -Tomorrow (July 15th) at 11:30 am ET:   Access Israel’s 3rd International Webinar on best practices and policies on accessibility and inclusion during these times https://www.aisrael.org/?CategoryID=3471&ArticleID=67143&dbsAuthToken=

 -Each Tuesday at 1:30 pm ET, RespectAbility is offering a free online training series, Disability Access and Inclusion Training Series for Jewish Organizations and Activists “so they can learn how to welcome, respect and include people with disabilities from all backgrounds in the important work that they do.”  Today’s session, which was recorded and will soon be available on their website, was entitled, “How to Ensure Accessible Events: Both Live and Virtual Across All Platforms.” 

Upcoming events:

July 21 – “How to Ensure a Welcoming Lexicon, Accessible Websites and Social Media and Inclusive Photos”

August 4 – “How to Create and Implement Successful Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives”

August 11 – “How to Ensure Legal Rights and Compliance Obligations”


 Previous Trainings in the series included:  “Inclusion as a Jewish Value,” “How to Advance Disability Inclusion in Jewish Education,” and “How to Recruit, Accommodate and Promote Jewish Leaders with Disabilities for Paid Employment and Volunteer Leadership.”

 MATAN ran a four session series this summer, “Disability wisdom in Jewish Tradition.”  https://matankids.org/resources/webinars-2/

 The Ruderman Family Foundation is in season 3 of it “All Inclusive with Jay Ruderman” podcast  https://rudermanfoundation.org/all-inclusive-introduction/.

The Landscape podcast https://www.tennesseeworks.org/the-landscape-podcast/.  It is “A podcast on people, programs and businesses changing the landscape for individuals with any type of disability.”

And my colleagues and friends, Shelly Christensen and Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer will host their 4th conversation this Thursday at 8 pm in “Everybody’s Welcome,” –“a new virtual conversation about disability inclusion from Inclusion Innovations and Whole Community Inclusion.”  In the upcoming episode, Shelly and Gabi share about their experiences on parenting, writing and spirituality–and what led them to become disability inclusion advocates. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScdwd_ifZKnS5nXPU82AGtORzk8tWITP7cPFVqODsUD3N1S0g/viewform

Finally, we at the National Ramah Commission and the National Ramah Tikvah Network are gearing up for “Jewish Journeys: Tikvah’s Role In The Jewish Disability Narrative” on July 22 pm (8 pm ET).  It is a discussion about the growth and impact of Ramah’s Tikvah programs over the past fifty years, through the lens of Tikvah alumni, participants, and staff.  https://www.campramah.org/ramah-ba-bayit/tzevet-limmud-7-22

And please check out our Kol B’Ramah podcasts.  There is a new feature, Tikvah Impact Stories.  Check out the first one, where I interview the extraordinary Yishai Barth!  https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/tikvah-impact-yishai-barth/id1518865496?i=1000483929342

 There is so much wonderful content out there.  Please check some of them out!

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