Greater MetroWest ABLE

Working to Make Jewish Life Accessible to All

By Rebecca Wanatick, Greater MetroWest ABLE Community Inclusion Coordinator

  • Sarah, a teen with autism, wanted to attend post-bat mitzvah classes.
  • Hannah, a child with Sensory Integration Disorder, wanted to go to the shul Purim Carnival.
  • Caleb, a young adult with autism, aspired to be a community leader.
  • Mark, an adult with an intellectual disability, dreamt of reading from the Torah.
  • Miriam, a former Federation leader whose toddler has physical disabilities, just wanted to be a typical mom.

Years ago, these children, teens, and adults would not have been able to take their rightful place in the Greater MetroWest community. Today, with the ongoing support of Greater MetroWest ABLE, they can.

  • Sarah attends JTEENgmw with the aid of a trained teen shadow who is her guide and her friend.
  • The shul Purim Carnival opened its doors for Hannah an hour early so she could experience it while it was still quiet.
  • Caleb is working with ABLE’s inclusion coordinator to find the best outlets for his aspirations.
  • Mark read from the Torah during a Shabbat service while a synagogue member stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
  • Miriam attends a mom’s support group while her daughter participates in a supported playgroup.

Greater MetroWest ABLE is an award-winning program of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest that supports and advocates for individuals with disabilities and their families. This unique collaborative network of 14 Federation partner agencies, family members, lay leaders, and professionals envisions a community that is made whole through the active and meaningful participation of all of its members, with opportunities for access to all aspects of Jewish life in our community. ABLE focuses on three pillars – Family Engagement, Community Inclusion, and Kehillah Shlemah (collaboration with our synagogues). This collaborative network works together to identify unmet needs and support programming to meet those needs for members of the community that have a disability.

Think about all the ways in which you and your family live Jewishly in your community. Some examples may be family Shabbat and holiday celebrations, JCC membership, synagogue life, preschool, religious school, youth groups, summer camp, and volunteer opportunities. This is how you experience Jewish life. We are all about making these opportunities available, accessible, and welcoming to all who wish to participate. Greater MetroWest ABLE works with our community resources to help create this vision of an inclusive Jewish community and make it a reality. 

The most critical thing we provide to families is support and guidance, including information and referrals to local community programs to best meet their needs. We also provide a variety of workshops and support groups for parents, caregivers, and siblings, allowing them to network with others, develop advocacy skills, and access support and guidance from like-minded family members and professionals. More experienced family members serve as mentors to those who are newly participating, providing meaningful participation for all involved. 

Through our community inclusion initiatives, Greater MetroWest ABLE provides training for educators, parents, and teens who are seeking to support children with disabilities in Jewish community life. Teens are able to participate in training through two programs. Greater MetroWest Madrichim trains a group of teens to support children with disabilities during religious school, recreational programs, and summer camps, allowing these children to participate in Jewish life in Greater MetroWest. The Learn to Babysit for Children with Special Needs program trains a group of teens to provide short-term respite services for families of a child with disabilities. Both of these programs benefit the recipients as well as the young providers of the services.

Through the kehillah shlemah initiatives with our congregations, Greater MetroWest ABLE provides guidance and support to the professional staff and lay leadership as they work to create more inclusive synagogue communities. We developed a Synagogue Self-Assessment in collaboration with clergy from the community, allowing congregations to take a look within at areas in which they are doing well and areas in which they can do more to create an inclusive congregational community. Where improvement is needed, we will help guide the next steps and work with synagogue inclusion committees. Congregations in Greater MetroWest participate in Shabbat Shalem/Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month in February, helping to raise awareness of the importance to include all members of our community in Jewish life. 

When families feel connected to others in the Jewish community, they are more likely to participate in Jewish life. When individuals feel that the Jewish community values them as members of the Jewish community, wonderful things begin to happen. 

For more information on Greater MetroWest ABLE and how we continue to support our families, agencies, and community congregations, visit our website or contact me at (973) 992-3129.