BROOKLINE – On Feb. 8-9, the Maimonides School Kehillah of Brookline welcomed about 30 Jews aged 8 to 16 with disabilities and community members to Shabbat services that celebrated Jewish inclusion.
Rina Hoffman, the assistant director of New England Yachad, said that her chapter’s first shabbaton of 2019 allowed participants to “experience inclusion in a vivid way.”
Local chapters of Yachad, an international organization that allows Jews with disabilities to take part in all aspects of Jewish life, host five shabbatons per year at different Jewish schools and synagogues throughout their region. At each shabbaton, community members open up their homes on Friday night to both Yachad members with disabilities and the high school or college student volunteers who are often part of Yachad clubs at their school, which foster friendships between students and Yachad members.
“Each shabbaton is really based on the community that we’re in,” said Hoffman. “Everyone stays with local families, and it’s really an opportunity for building relationships, getting to know one another, and developing community in a way that’s organic.”
The 25-hour shabbaton began at 3 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, when host families greeted their guests. After settling into their weekend homes, the visitors joined their families for a community dinner at the synagogue.
The next day was the Shabbat service, which was attended by over 125 people. At Yachad shabbatons, traditional Shabbat services are supplemented with meditations on the theme of inclusion and reflections from the Yachad community.
“The services are led by the rabbi of the community in whatever format is traditional to that community, but Yachad members – sometimes the advisers, sometimes the students – have an opportunity to share words of Torah, to give a D’var Torah, to speak … at various intervals, throughout the evening, throughout the Shabbat service during the day,” said Hoffman. After the service, the community takes part in a large Kiddush lunch, which hews to the Jewish summer camp traditions of singing, dancing, and overall ruach.
Yachad shabbatons are made possible by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which is one of New England Yachad’s primary funders. Because the Maimonides School is right in the Newton-based foundation’s backyard, the foundation has an especially tight connection to the Maimonides shabbaton.
Sharon Shapiro, the director of the foundation’s Boston office, is a member of the Maimonides Kehillah and served on the host committee for the event. “The Ruderman Foundation are tremendous supporters, not only financially, but really being involved in our program, in our mission – they’re very hands on,” said Hoffman.