Inclusion a priority at Congregation Beth El

August 10, 2018

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Congregation Beth El is opening its doors; that is, opening them wider. Recognizing that while the congregation prides itself on its hospitality, there are many ways in which the community feels it can be more actively welcoming. To that end, plans are underway to make members and visitors more comfortable.

The congregation intends to upgrade its amplifier system, so that there will be a permanent installation of a loop system in both the sanctuary and Myers Hall. When completed, anyone using a hearing aid that has a “T-switch” can simply flip it to “T,” and be looped in. Users will be able to hear most everything, without the interference of background noises.

Items will also be provided that serve the variety of experiences people have during services, such as (quiet) fidgets for kids and adults, shawls for those who find the air conditioning too effective or the heat insufficient, and a variety of visual aids, including religious texts on Kindles, so that readers can enlarge the font to meet their needs. These items will be readily available—no need to request them—as soon as the changes are in place.

Changes do not stop at the sanctuary. Beth El’s religious school welcomes all kids from a wide variety of families, including mixed marriages and families of Jews by choice. Creating an environment where all students feel loved and listened to, and the materials and setting for all kids’ needs to be met, without labeling, will be provided.

Beth El also has a new program to provide resources for students with all kinds of learning needs, including trained teen aides for students who require them, an inclusion specialist and opportunities for one-on-one assistance as needed.

The school’s new curriculum comes from the Institute for Southern Jewish Life. Southern Jewish history is so often excluded from the story of American Jewry.

The new head of school is Eran Livni, PhD, an Israeli with many years of teaching experience, including with at-risk kids. Livni is also the founder of Roadstead Montessori High School in Norfolk. Claudia Isler-Mazur, the inclusion specialist, is working with Matan, Inc. to focus specifically on inclusion in Jewish spaces.

The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Synagogue Partnership Grant Program has helped to make these efforts possible.

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