Helping special needs children in Israel prepare for Bar/Bat Mitzvah

by | Nov 21, 2012 | Uncategorized

MASORTI, meaning traditional, is the Hebrew name for the movement of conservative Judaism in Israel. The Masorti Movement fosters the practice of traditional Judaism while embracing modernity. In promoting the combined values of conservative Judaism, religious tolerance and Zionism, the Movement strives to nurture a healthy, pluralistic, spiritual and ethical foundation for Israeli society.

One of Masorti’s special programs provides bar and bat mitzvah preparation and Jewish enrichment for Israeli children with special needs. The only national program of its kind, it has brought joy to more than 3,000 families who never thought they would be able to experience such a simcha (happy occasion).

The Masorti Movement believes that every child, regardless of ability, deserves this chance to shine—and take his or her rightful place as a Jewish adult, embraced by community. What began in one school for children with special needs today includes up to about 300 youngsters a year who attend 40 special education schools throughout Israel.

The Tidewater community helps ensure that this program exists, and continues, through donations made to the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Annual Campaign. Allocations are made through the Israel and Overseas committee of the UJFT.

Participants have a variety of physical and developmental challenges, such as cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, ADD-ADHD, autism, blindness, hearing impairments and learning disabilities. The program welcomes children of every religious and ethnic background, many of them new immigrants.

Each year, six to nine months of preparation, with teachers certified in special education and knowledgeable in Judaic studies, culminate in communal bar and bat mitzvah celebrations at one of the Masorti kehillot (congregations). Teacher training is an important component of the program, with professional development provided in the latest alternative and interactive modes of learning.

Leading up to the big day, youngsters learn about blessings, Shabbat, festivals and customs, performing mitzvot and other activities that reflect Jewish values.

When the children are called up to the Torah for an Aliyah, many utilizing special communications devices to recite the appropriate blessings, the congregation is nearly always moved to tears.

Locally, Jewish Family Service of Tidewater provides services for Jewish individuals with special needs, offering a variety of resources to enrich lives, participate in social recreation programs and connect with area synagogues.

“It’s important to all families to be connected to the Jewish community through rituals and ceremonies,” says Debbie Mayer, JFS clinical director. “It helps them feel like they belong, like they are a part of the community.”

Local rabbis, Mayer says, are very accommodating to special needs individuals, and welcome the opportunity to assist with life cycle ceremonies such as a bar or bat mitzvah.

Gifts to the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Annual Campaign help ensure the success of organizations such as the Masorti Movement and Jewish Family Service of Tidewater. To find out about these and other programs supported by Annual Campaign donations, or to make a donation, visit To find out more about Special Needs Services of the JFS, visit

by and the Jewish News Staff