Celebrations Program for Young People 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.
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.
Ner Shalom 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.
Every Celebrations session includes a Parent Break. This 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.
Havdalah with the Horses
Every Celebrations year concludes with "Havdalah with the Horses," an open-air event held at Renaissance Hippotherapy Center. 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.
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gratitude from a participant
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.
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.