Congregation Ner Shalom

Celebrations Logo JCF Logo


For Kids with Special Needs and their Families

Conservatively, there are 200 families in Sonoma County who are Jewish or mixed-faith, and whose lives are bound up in raising a child with special needs. And yet it has remained difficult for families with special needs children to connect Jewishly. Few synagogues offer religious school tracks devoted to the intense needs of these kids, many of whom cannot succeed in a mainstream religious school environment. Families with special needs children sometimes find themselves unwanted at services and other synagogue events. Their children may be noisy or behave in atypical ways, bringing on a chorus of shushing, criticism or both.

Ner Shalom, however, is committed to welcoming families with special needs, and considers it both a mitzvah and a great privilege to offer the Celebrations Program. Celebrations offers monthly events designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities and their families. Most sessions are associated with a holiday and involve music, art, ritual food preparation, storytelling, games and teachings about the holiday. Most The children represented in the program have disabilities that include Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy and severe autism. Celebrations tries to employ all five senses to create strong impressions and lasting connections with Jewish ritual.

Celebrations sessions also include a Parent BreakThis is an opportunity for private conversation, study and respite while our children continue to celebrate with our staff. Parents have a chance to connect with each other, offer support, ideas and resources, and even discuss some Jewish topics.

In addition to Sunday morning sessions, Celebrations hosts an annual Havdalah with the Horses at the Renaissance Hippotherapy Center, among other special events. Havdalah offers a special kind of magic; this ritual is uniquely suited to the Celebrations community. It is brief, musical, and specifically designed around sensory input – taste, smell and sight.

Here is a comment from one of our participating families:

In many other settings, our son is treated like the elephant in the room, but at Celebrations and at other Ner Shalom events, like Pesach seder, he is calm, happy and getting so much out of being part of what is going on. He can't express this verbally, but you can all see the delight and joy in his face being with the Celebrations students, being with the Dor Hadash students, marching around the shul with the Torah and in every other wonderful activity offered at Ner Shalom.

This is truly what I think our religious practice should be--it is meaningful to me beyond any way I could ever express.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being so welcoming and for giving me a little more hope that my son can be part of a welcoming community now and when I may not be around to watch over him.

Upcoming Celebrations Sessions 2016-2017:

September 25, 2016
Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur 
October 23, 2016
Sukkot/Simchat Torah
December 18, 2016
February 12, 2017
Tu Bishvat
March 12, 2017
April 9, 2017
Seder Pesach
June 4, 2017
Summer 2017
9th Annual Havdalah with the Horses

Ner Shalom membership is not required for participation in Celebrations.
If you are interested and would like more information or to register,
please contact Jennifer Lorvick or Leslie Gattmann

Oh, and join our Celebrations community on Facebook!

Celebrations is supported by a generous grant from the Jewish Community Federation (JCF) of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. JCF works to care for the vulnerable,  educate and engage the Jewish community, and promote Israel and Jewish peoplehood around the world. For more information, visit the Federation website.

Photos above from Havdalah with the Horses 2011.

Congregation Ner Shalom
A Reconstructionist Synagogue
of Sonoma & Marin Counties

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