NEW YORK – The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Yachad, the leading group for individuals with disabilities in the Orthodox community, has taken its annual Family “Shabbaton” online in order to allow participants to experience the program’s unity and support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Where the program would traditionally be an in-person retreat for families, the event has been turned into a week-long virtual conference with the same inspiring speakers who would have been at the weekend event.
Yachad has already been offering digital and virtual options to its members through Yachad On Demand and a partnership with the Sruly App and Moxtra. The Sruly team created a safe and secure app for individuals with developmental disabilities to connect with Yachad staff and to foster meaningful personal relationships with pre-assigned “buddies” during these times when they cannot be together in person.
By going virtual, the Shabbaton expands upon the avenues of impact Yachad is able to utilize for helping individuals with special needs throughout this time of isolation and uncertainty, and where the annual in-person event is more limited based on geography and ability to travel, the online program allows Yachad families from around the globe to attend the sessions. The format also allowed those interested in joining for a specific session to do so without committing to joining the full multi-evening program.
Presenters included Yachad International Director Avrohom Adler; OU Incoming Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer; Charlie Harary; Dr. Eli Shapiro; Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb; Rabbi Michael Taubes; Rabbi Shay Schachter; Dr. Izzy Klein; Dr. Eric Fier; Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman; Michelle Steinhart; Tobey Lass-Karpel; Shira Wiesenberg; Sara Cooperman; Yakira Begun; Chani Herrmann; Jack Gourdji and comedian Eli Lebowicz.
“Yachad has a rich history of bringing best-in-class inclusive programming to the Jewish community. By working together, their team was able to adapt this annual program which so many families with children with disabilities look forward to attending,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane.
“While we all feel the impact of social distancing, it is particularly challenging for those with special needs who heavily rely upon in-person connections and looked forward to this annual event,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “Yachad’s virtual family Shabbaton offers them the aspects of the program they look forward to in a manner consistent with keeping each and every participant safe during these turbulent times.”
“The special needs community has been impacted tremendously by social distancing requirements,” said Yachad International Director Avrohom Adler. “For so many of our families, this virtual event served as a reminder that we are not alone and are here to inspire each other.”
Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.