Create a “buddy system” in which volunteers help a special needs child follow along in the siddur during davening and in the Chumash during the Torah reading.
Organize a “Special Needs Shabbaton” where a scholar-in-residence is invited to your shul to educate and enlighten congregants about the special needs population.
Approach a shul member who has a child with special needs and say: “Although my family and I don’t know your child and are unfamiliar with special needs, we would love to have him participate in shul with us. What can you tell me about him to help us get him more involved?”
Follow the rabbi’s lead: The rabbi is key to the success of any important synagogue endeavor. By personally approaching and welcoming individuals with special needs and their families, he is modeling how to act.
Encourage participation: Individuals with developmental disabilities enjoy doing concrete tasks. In shul, assign regular jobs for them ranging from collecting and shelving siddurim to setting up for a kiddush.
Read “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?,” a pamphlet published by Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities that describes how to interact with children and adults with disabilities and illustrates how much we have in common once we get to know one another.
Contact Yachad/NJCD (www.njcd.org) for help or with any questions. Call 212.613.8229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman is national director of Yachad/NJCD.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.