We proudly announce that the Union for Reform Judaism, representing 900 synagogues throughout North America, has recognized Congregation Or Ami as an exemplar congregation for inclusion. Click here to read more.
Access to Judaism for all people (and especially children) with special needs has been a hallmark of Congregation Or Ami since Rabbi Paul Kipnes first joined our congregation in our second year of existence. The first policy he asked to be put in place was clear and simple:
"Any child of a member who works to the best of his/her ability has the right to a Jewish educational experience. Also, any child of a member who works to the best of his/her ability has the right and privilege to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Congregation Or Ami."
Today, access involves such things as individualized bar and bat mitzvah training for children with special needs, support group for parents of children with special needs, large-print prayer books, an Education Intern who acts a liaison for special needs families within the Mishpacha program, and increasing sensitivity to the scope of needs within each community.
In conjunction with the Union for Reform Judaism's Department of Jewish Family Concerns and the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance's Mercaz Center (one-stop program for Jewish families with children with special needs and developmental disabilities), Congregation Or Ami strives to create and enhance inclusive environments and accessible spaces to ensure that everyone is included. Every congregant has a right to a rich Jewish life in a welcoming environment.
Many families with children who have special needs or challenges struggle to find a home in the Jewish community. We say: you are not alone. Congregation Or Ami, our Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz and Cantor Doug Cotler and our Reform Jewish movement welcome you. Congregation Or Ami is already proud to be a home congregation for many individuals and families with special needs, and we welcome you to share in the warmth of our community. We invite you to begin a conversation with Rabbi Kipnes to share your hopes or questions about being a family with special needs at Or Ami.
You may be wondering about…
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Services: Because you have been blessed with this child, we at Or Ami strive to ensure that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience is welcoming to all members of your family. Your child will have a REAL Bar/Bat Mitzvah service! Rabbis Kipnes and Weisz, Cantor Cotler and our B'nai Mitzvah Teacher Diane Townsend work with each family to create an individualized learning process and a service which takes advantage of your child's unique gifts. You all will participate fully in the service, from the ceremony of passing Torah down through the generations to standing up at the Torah during the aliyah (Torah blessing) to the opportunity to bless your child. Our creativity allows your child to shine during your simcha (joyous moment). We invite you to begin a conversation with Rabbi Kipnes about your family’s questions about Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Educating Children: Families with children with special needs may be especially interested in our Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning Program. (Mishpacha means "family" in Hebrew.) An alternative to our wonderful Monday-Wednesday drop-off Religious School, our Mishpacha program allows parents and children to study together twice monthly on Sunday mornings. Often adults spend time alone with Rabbi Kipnes while children learn in multi-grade groupings with our fine faculty. Everyone learns the same material at age-appropriate levels. Then parents and children interact through projects, games, trials and round robin activities to explore the beauty of Judaism. This program is especially helpful for families with a child with special needs as it allows for greater individualized attention and the presence of a parent onsite ensures that your child has the additional support he/she needs to find success. Additionally, one of our Mishpacha Coordinators will call you before each session to review the day's plan, to determine how best your child's needs are accomodated, and, if necessary, to come up with suggestions of how the lesson plan can be altered to meet your child's needs. We invite you to learn more about Mishpacha (family learning), Kesher, and Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) programs and speak with Rabbi Julia Weisz who oversees them all.
Adults with Special Needs: Or Ami is proud to welcome Chaverim, a social-recreational club for adults (18-80 years old) with developmental disabilities, into our synagogue family. Chaverim is a program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Learn more about Chaverim, or contact Gerry Dicker, Chaverim Program Director (or call 818-464-3360).
Support for Parents with Children with Special Needs : Programs bring parents together to share ideas, resources and support related to raising a child with special needs. Supervised childcare provides you with peace of mind as your child is taken care of elsewhere in the synagogue. You can sit back, find support, gather resources, and enjoy the blessing of being part of a Jewish community that "gets it!" We invite you to begin a conversation with Michael Kaplan (parent of a child with special needs, Or Ami past president and special needs support program founder) to learn more.
Rabbi Kipnes' Blogs on Inclusion: Rabbi Kipnes recounts Congregation Or Ami's deep commitment to inclusion by describing our philosophy, experiences, mistakes and moments of simcha (joy). Read here.
In case you were interested in more...
To celebrate the awesome experience when our member Brandon became a Bar Mitzvah, we have established the Brandon Kaplan Honoray Special Needs Fund of Congregation Or Ami. The Fund serves to:
Rabbi Paul Kipnes teaches that "There is a sense that children with special needs, physically, emotionally, mentally, don't have a place in the synagogue, in the Jewish community. That's just not true, particularly here at Or Ami. We have celebrated B'nai Mitzvah services with children with autism, emotional developmental problems, intense dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome... The Torah and Judaism are available for all of us."
Or Ami emphasizes that no matter what a child's needs are, it's never a question of ifa child can become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, it'swhen the ceremony will take place.
Rabbi Kipnes explains, "With special needs children, there are two values being played out, simultaneously. Working with Brandon Kaplan, for instance, we saw that Brandon is a kid like any other kid created in the image of God, worthy of love. But Brandon is also a special kid and there is an honor and joy to the congregation that he participates to the fullness of his abilities. So he's normal and special, but here's the secret: so is every other kid."
On February 9, 1994 my son, Brandon, was born. Dina and I immediately recognized that something was different about this child, as he had a visible disability. Within an hour the pediatrician walked into Dina’s hospital room and told us that there was a problem with the baby. I listened as he described Brandon’s rocker bottom feet, short neck, wide set eyes and a simian crease on his hand. Through the fog that just settled upon us, Dina and I observed a parade of specialists who examined Brandon, each radiated an aura of doom and gloom, and each gave us the comforting three word report, “I don’t know.”
Months later, as the High Holy Days approached I was prepared to go the synagogue to ask God why he did this to us. Why did he take a child, who was supposed to be perfect, and burden him – and us – with so many disabilities?
But then a very pivotal event happened at the Kaplan household. I awoke one morning and looked up at Dina’s smiling face. Dina looked at me and said “Michael, I finally realized that Brandon didn’t happen to us. Brandon happened for us.” Read more
Congregation Or Ami26115 Mureau Road, Suite BCalabasas, CA 91302
P: (818) 880-4880 F: (818) 880-2290