Port Washington Jewish Education Program for Children with Special Needs
Jonathan became a Bar Mitzvah on May 16, 2015. But his journey was unlike that of most Jewish children. Jon is on the autism spectrum, is non-verbal, and his disabilities prevented him from participating in traditional religious studies.
Initially Jon’s parents, Jackie and Andrew Mandel, enrolled him in The Community Synagogue’s Early Childhood Center’s three-year-old program. It soon became evident that this typical classroom was not an appropriate setting for their son.
A few years later the Mandels were once again looking for a Reform Jewish synagogue which could offer an educational setting to now accommodate both of their children, their daughter who is a typical learner as well as their son Jon. It was suggested to them through another mom in the community, that they explore the Efshar program at The Community Synagogue.
In a meeting with Shari Isserles, Director of Education, the Mandels learned how the Efshar program was specifically designed to meet the special needs of children such as Jon. They heard how other children with special needs had become a Bar Mitzvah and about the preparation process. Jon’s joined the class where his teacher, Karen Scheir, provided a supportive classroom filled with learning, laughter and much needed opportunities to practice social skills.
The educational staff and clergy of The Community Synagogue, along with a special group of rabbis in Boston, helped shape Jon’s service and create his Bar Mitzvah picture book. With the assistance of a communication program (Proloquo2go) installed on John’s iPad, he was able to “recite” prayers and his haftarah. The addition of songs and movements, designed by Rabbi Danny Burkeman and Cantor Claire Franco, clergy at The Community Synagogue, provided Jon and his family with an even more meaningful service, as he was able to fully participate and share in the joy of the occasion.
The Mandel family is very grateful for the availability of this inclusion program for their son and other Jewish children and their families. Jon continues to attend the Efshar class each week and enjoys the social and educational aspects of this special class.