Empowering Children with Special Needs

There is every reason why a child with special needs should have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It helps them feel accepted, boosts their self-image and breaks down barriers.

A Pioneer in Special Needs Bar/Bat Mitzvot
For two decades Hod Ve Hadar has been a warm home for special needs Bar/Bat Mitzvot. It all began in 1995 when Hod Ve Hadar member Judith Edelman-Green was appointed Director of Education for the Conservative (Masorti) Movement in Israel, and was asked to do a one-time Bar Mitzvah ceremony for 16 children with cerebral palsy. The children lived all over Israel and were a cross section of every Jewish ethnic group in the country, coming from a range of communities that spanned the Ultra-Orthodox to secular Israelis. Many of the children couldn’t speak, using alternate forms of communication.

The Challenge was Great
Several children were taught on an individual basis. However, when Holon’s Herzfeld School turned up with a large group of children with developmental disabilities, Judith knew she needed professional guidance to handle their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Her natural inclination was to turn to two other Hod Ve Hadar members – Gila Vogel and Susie Dvoskin – both of whom were experts in special education as well as Jewish education. Together, they developed a curriculum integrating two important elements:

1) The creation of a personal blessing by every child. Some children could not speak. Their personal blessings took the form of a photograph showing them pointing to a tree, flower or bird; and 2) Performing a mitzvah, be it visiting the sick in hospitals, singing to the elderly or bringing a bouquet of flowers to a lonely person. At the end of the day, each child either read from the Torah or gave a rendition of the Torah portion in his or her unique fashion. The ceremony was an outstanding success, with the children feeling fulfilled and the parents ecstatic.

Opening the Hearts of All People
The Conservative (Masorti) Movement continues to run this very successful Bar/Bat Mitzvah program for children with special needs. Gila Vogel and Susie Dvoskin continue to serve as advisors, and Susie still teaches. In 2005 Judith began her Rabbinic studies. Today she is a Rabbi who works with the ill and elderly. As for Hod Ve Hadar – the cradle of this program – it has been the venue for a number of special needs Bar/Bat Mitzvah group ceremonies every year for the past twenty years. Many Hod Ve Hadar members mentor the children. The experience has been so heartwarming that the next generation has stepped up to the plate, filling the role their parents played in years gone by.

Hod Ve Hadar is wheelchair accessible, large, and most important, warm and welcoming.

For more information please contact Gila Vogel: gilavogel2012@gmail.com