Sinai Temple launches special-needs B’nai Mitzvah program

Sinai Temple is partnering with Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services to add b’nai mitzvah training for children with special needs to its religious school. The program begins in January and is currently enrolling the children of nonmembers as well as members.

Although Sinai Temple has families with special-needs children among its members, the Conservative synagogue has lacked a program that addresses the needs of students with learning differences — a gap incompatible with Jewish values, says Vista’s Rabbi Jackie Redner.

“Inclusion means that there is a place for everybody under the tent,” Redner said.

Rabbi Nicole Guzik, whose mother is a special-education teacher and whose husband’s family works with the special-needs community, led the effort to bring the Vista Del Mar program, called Nes Gadol (Hebrew for “Great Miracle”), to Sinai.

Parents of children with autism and other developmental disorders had been calling Sinai, worried that their children wouldn’t have anywhere to have a bar or bat mitzvah, said Guzik, who called the creation of Nes Gadol at Sinai bashert (destined).

The Nes Gadol program at Sinai Temple begins on Jan. 8 and will consist of a weekly Sunday class. Redner will join an arts and music specialist, a behavioral specialist, members of Sinai Temple’s SiHi program — an afterschool religious program for eighth- to 12th-graders — and Sinai Temple clergy in leading classes. The program is intended for ages 9 and up, but organizers say there is flexibility in the age requirements.

Students will study in groups inside the classroom and in Sinai’s chapel, working toward one-on-one tutoring with a Sinai Temple rabbi or cantor as they get closer to the date of their bar or bat mitzvah.

In addition to b’nai mitzvah training, Vista will provide inclusion training for the Sinai Temple staff and special-needs information to the synagogue.

Redner, who has worked with Nes Gadol children at Vista for several years, was thrilled that Rabbi David Wolpe and Sinai Temple President Eric Diamond embraced the idea of the program.

“Rabbi Wolpe is such an important leader, and his bringing this to Sinai Temple speaks volumes,” she said. “It matters.”

Nes Gadol organizers could not provide details about the cost to program participants but said the price will be comparable to Sinai Temple’s current religious school program. Financial aid will also be available.

Sinai has raised enough money to fund Nes Gadol for two years — beyond that, the program’s future at Sinai is uncertain. Still, organizers say it’s a step in the right direction for Sinai.

“This is Sinai Temple,” Guzik said. “This is a place where every Jewish child should have a Jewish education and should be able to call this place their home.”

For information about how to enroll, call (310) 481-3234.