Calling up to read from the Torah (Archive)
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Bar Mitzvah (Archive)
Photo: AP

Conservative synagogue celebrates Bar Mitzvahs for autistic teens

Disqualified by Orthodox Halachic approach to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah, autistic teenagers find conservative alternative humane, accomodating in fulfilling their 'coming of age' dream

It looked like just another ordinary Bar Mitzvah: Boys wearing their talit (praying shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries), reading the weekly Torah portion and singing “Adon Olam” (“Lord of the World”).


But this was a different Bar Mitzvah, unique and moving to tears, as five boys and one girl, all of them autistic, fought for their dream – and won.


Their 'coming of age' path was not an easy one. The Orthodox community poses a Halachic problem in calling up autistics to read from the Torah, since Jewish law says "one who is deaf, one who is young and one who is a simpleton shall be exempt from ordinance."


A source close to the celebrators said Monday that “in most cases, the Orthodox community doesn’t allow invalids to read from the Torah, but we refused to give up and joined the conservative community.”


The faculty at the Kshatot School near Pardes Hana, headed by principal Tirza Gamliel, decided to try and help their autistic students fulfill their wish. They approached the Hod Ve-Hadar Conservative synagogue in Kfar-Saba, which responded positively.


With great diligence, tutor Dror Yavor visited the autistic teens’ school every week for six months, teaching them the Torah portion of “Parashat Balak.”


“It was an amazing, fascinating experience. I watched their progression from moment to moment, lesson to lesson,” Yavor said proudly.


The big moment finally came on Monday. The excited teens arrived at the Hod Ve-Hadar synagogue, and wearing talit and tefillin, the boys with yarmulkes, they began reading from the weekly Torah portion. Not a single eye was left dry when one of the boys, who usually only mumbles, fervently sang “Adon Olam.”


'Happiest day ever'

Yavor recorded the Torah portion ahead of time in case his students would not be able to take the tension and excitement, but he never had to use it. The five boys and girl did wonders in reading the portion with help from the rabbis and instructors.


“I am moved and full of pride. Six months ago, I didn’t believe my son could read from the Torah. But my Danny stood poised and did it,” one of the mothers said.


One of the fathers said the event was the “happiest day ever” for him, adding that “those who don’t wish to hold a Bar Mitzvah for my son don’t have to; I only focus on the good and on those willing to do such a mitzvah and hold such an amazing celebration.”


Orthodox Rabbi Yuval Sharlow from the Tzohar organization said Monday that “this is a real problem of the Orthodox community that must be solved. The problem is not only with autistics but with boys suffering from Down syndrome and other populations with one problem or the other.”


According to Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger, “there is no reason or pretext to reject autistics. They can be called up to the Torah and participate in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony.”


Dr. Yitzhak Kedman, executive director and founder of the National Council for the Child (NCC) congratulated “all the humane people giving those autistic kids the feeling that they are human beings. For me, there is no greater mitzvah than that.”


Ilan Sadeh, head of the Menashe Regional Council in which the teens study, said n response: “I regret that the families had to travel all the way to Kfar-Saba to hold the ceremony. I will work towards having the ceremony held within the council’s limits next year.”


פרסום ראשון: 07.08.08, 19:44
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