The first weekend in February is when America celebrates its annual ritual of fun, food, festivities, and football, amid fans’ cheering for their favorite team and players: the Super Bowl!
This year’s big weekend was the occasion for a particularly emotional and memorable event at Adath Shalom in Morris Plains, not for the exciting football game that turned out to be, but because we welcomed some guests — from the WAE (Wellness, Arts, Enrichment) Center, a program of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled of MetroWest (JSDD) — who filled our hearts with happiness.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a yearly reminder to support programs throughout the year whose aims are to raise awareness of community members with challenges; to increase cognizance of their needs; and to bring them, their families, and those who love them into their Jewish communities in meaningful ways.
Adath Shalom fulfills those goals every day thanks to an active inclusion committee working to bring attention to the needs of congregants, religious school students, and members of the community at large through many activities, including the Open Door Minyan, which meets the first Saturday morning of each month.
A cadre of adult and teen volunteers lead the participants in this special minyan by sharing Shabbat spirituality and prayers and giving aliyot and leadership roles to our guests. During the kiddush lunch, congregants welcome the guests to sit and visit with them; afterward, a Shabbat-appropriate craft project is offered, with singing led by our guests.
The JSDD guests come with smiles and hugs for the congregants each month, and they in turn are greeted the same way — and with many cheers of “yasher koach” in recognition of their participation. Because Adath Shalom is a Conservative congregation, photographs and video are not allowed on Shabbat, so the memories are carried in the hearts of the participants.
But Super Bowl weekend seemed to call for more, and the program’s many volunteers — led by Rebecca Fisher, Sue Rosenthal, and Jeri Kimowitz — created a Shabbat Shalem Super Bowl Half-Time Havdalah on “erev” Super Bowl, Saturday evening, Feb. 4. The congregation became fully immersed in this spiritual and fun-filled event.
That evening, Adath Shalom seemed to hold the same excitement as NRG Stadium in Houston would the next day, when fans were rocking and rolling and cheering for the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. Thirty-eight guests, JSDD staffers, and almost 100 congregants of all ages joined in the festivities at the synagogue.
We offered many of the essentials of a Super Bowl fete: T-shirts — blue and white and emblazoned with “Team Adath Shalom” on the back and “Friends for Life: Chai” on the front — delicious food (wings, chili, dips, hot dogs, etc.), and a half-time show filled with glowing lights and music.
When our JSDD friends arrived, we greeted them with smiles, balloons, and their custom-made jerseys, which they immediately put on. Children and adults partnered with our guests, ushering them into the sanctuary for the Mincha-Maariv service. Participants joined minyan leader Michael Landau, Rabbi Moshe Rudin, and Cantor Lois Kittner on the bima to assist in leading prayers. During the Torah reading, their partners escorted our guests, with tears of happiness and pride, to the bima for aliyot and honors. The conclusion of the service saw a delighted crowd on the bima for Adon Olam.
While the clergy members and Michael Landau led the Havdalah ceremony from the bima, guests, children, and congregants wearing blue and red glow sticks formed a ring around the sanctuary
The daled and hey class students, led by Greater MetroWest rishona Roni Belkin, entertained and paired up with our guests in Israeli dances. Congregants served delicious food at tables decorated with football themes and placemats to color.
For “half time,” our JSDD guests gave a talent show, singing, reciting poetry, telling jokes, and eliciting enthusiastic rounds of applause.
Our guests departed with goodie bags filled with football-shaped cookies and brownies, lots of happy memories, and an invitation to join us for more revelry on Purim.