Traditional lifecycle events are often overlooked or considered impossible for many special needs children due to their individual challenges. The Masorti Movement in Israel is changing this by providing funding, teachers, and facilities for these special children who otherwise could not celebrate this significant moment. The Masorti Movement’s Bar and Bat Mitzvah Program for Children with Disabilities is Israel's only national program, providing bar/bat mitzvah preparation and Jewish enrichment for children with disabilities. This program has brought joy to more than 3,000 families who never thought they would be able to experience such a simcha.
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 disabilities today includes up to about 300 youngsters a year who attend 40 special education schools throughout Israel. Participants include children with 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 joyous communal bar/bat mitzvah celebrations at one of the Masorti kehillot (congregations). When the children are called up to the Torah for an aliyah, many utilizing special communications devices to recite the appropriate blessings, rarely is the congregation not moved to tears. Communal singing and dancing are always part of the celebration.
Leading up to the big day, youngsters learn about blessings, Shabbat, festivals and customs, performing mitzvot and other activities that reflect Jewish values. If possible, for example, they visit the elderly, care for animals and help others in need as part of their commitment to Jewish life. Teacher training is also an important component of the program, with professional development provided in the latest alternative and interactive modes of learning. Many faculty come from the professional ranks of the Masorti movement, including rabbis and youth movement counselors.
“We were all moved, and we still find it hard to believe that we saw Amir sing and pray… You gave Amir, and all who love him, the gift of a lifetime.” - Ronit Levinger, aunt
“I chose the Masorti Bar/Bat Mitzvah program for Children with Special Needs to support with my Bat Mitzvah money because I am interested in children with special needs. I want to help other kids have the same special moment in their life that I am going to experience. Even if they have to do it differently, it’s still possible to feel proud and special. I also like that I get to learn about the children who I am sponsoring. Learning about the program was very easy because of the kind people I talked to at Masorti.” - Laura, preparing for becoming bat mitzvah
“I came upon the Masorti Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program for Children with Special Needs, from an internet search when my daughter expressed an interest in donating her Bat Mitzvah money to an organization that works with special needs children. From the initial phone call to the Toronto office, to the immediate follow up by email and a phone call from the office in Israel, it became an easy decision that this was the program to support. We received a full description of the program and all of my daughter's questions were answered. The attention given to my daughter to ensure she was comfortable with her decision was also impressive. I am proud of what my daughter is doing and I know it will be a meaningful experience for her and the Israeli children who will also become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.” - Laura’s mother