Wednesday, October 12, 2016
There's a place for him at our house of worship today
This morning, Max and I will be at an inclusion service at our temple. Max has been psyched—psyched!—about it. This from a boy who traditionally hasn't been that into going to services.
This morning, I am going to be psyched, too, because I have found a place where all of us feel comfortable and included.
Readers of this blog know that for years, it was an ongoing struggle for our family to find a temple that offered services for children with special needs, who can have attention and sensory issues. I'd heard of several, but none were local and it was important to me to have a sense of community along with spirituality.
And then, a new rabbi started at the temple we'd left. He created a service for families and children of all abilities, which we happily attended last year. And then, the rabbi helped prepare Max for his bar mitzvah and officiated at the ceremony with such warmth, pride and enthusiasm that guests were still talking about it months later (and he treats every child that way, exactly the point). Since his big day, Max has been genuinely excited about saying certain prayers and observing traditions of our religion.
The head of a synagogue, church or mosque doesn't just set an example for how staffers should treat youth with special needs—he sets the tone, making it clear that all are truly welcome. I discovered the temple trickle-down the other week, when I spoke with the director of the new youth program. Sabrina's going to events and I thought Max might want to as well.
I explained Max's needs to the director, and that Max would need a hand with eating and other life skills. And within a few minutes this man said, unhesitatingly, that he'd welcome Max, he'd be glad to help him and we'd see how things went. I'd been expecting to have to do some serious persuading to get him to agree to let Max come, but no: It was that easy. And then the angels sang!
Last week, Max and I went to the inclusionary service on Tuesday morning. He'd decided it would be a mom and me thing. There was only one other family there, which suited us just fine. Max helped the educator leading the service turn the pages of the booklet (after informing everyone that his name was Fireman Max, of course). He lead The Shemah, a central prayer that affirms our faith in God. He listened to the book that was being read and even though his attention wandered, for once, he did not try to bolt out of the service.
Today, we will be at that inclusionary service again, Fireman Max decked out in a prayer shawl with streaks of flame that was made for him at camp this summer. And I will be sitting there by his side, thankful and content and filled with a spiritual peace that was missing from our lives for too long.