Shabbat means inclusion
South Orange shul considers diversity, displacement, and art this weekend
Displacement, diversity and inclusion are the themes of this weekend’s Shabbat services at Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange.
On Friday evening at 6 p.m., the Conservative synagogue will hold an inclusion Shabbat service, highlighting liturgy, poetry, and music inspired by the experiences of people with disabilities or neurodiversity.
On Saturday morning, the Social Justice Initiative of Oheb Shalom has planned a Shabbat service dedicated to people who have been displaced due to climate change.
HIAS — the international Jewish humanitarian organization that assists refugees and asylum seekers in more than 20 countries and whose new name comes from its old one, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — has promoted the annual refugee Shabbat in February since 2018.
“The service will serve to remind the congregation that this could be us,” Terri Harrison, co-chair of Oheb Shalom’s Social Justice Initiative, said.
The Bible recounts stories of the human displacement of the Jewish people because of environmental disasters, said Bennet Zurofsky, a member of the Social Justice Initiative who planned the event.
“We’re focusing on climate refugees, the reason why the climate is changing and who is responsible for it and who should take ownership of it,” Ms. Harrison said. “I think congregants who attend will broaden their understanding of the factors that are responsible for the movement going on in the world of people trying to find a better life.
“It’s not all about repressive governments or gangs. It’s come about to a certain extent because of climate issues in their particular countries. I think we’ll have a more relatable view of what’s going on at our borders.”
Guest speaker Rebecca Kirzner, the senior director of grassroots campaigns at HIAS, will tell stories and teach congregants about how they can advocate for this marginalized population. The d’var Torah will focus on the struggles that refugees often face.
The inclusion Shabbat service on Friday will feature Harris Engel from JESPY House, who will play piano during the service. JESPY House is a nonprofit in West Orange that serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“We happen to have a pianist and accompanist who is a JESPY client and lives with a lifelong disability. He also happens to be an incredible musician,” Eliana Kissner said. Cantor Kissner will lead Friday night services with American Sign Language interpreter Marianne Brown.
“This is where we really highlight and celebrate people with different abilities as part of a huge disability awareness and inclusion month,” Jordan Aronson, chair of the shul’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said. He will accompany Mr. Engel on the clarinet.
The Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled will display artwork at Oheb Shalom by its clients made at WAE — its Wellness Arts and Enrichment Center — in Livingston. The exhibit will continue until the end of February.
The artists will briefly discuss their works during the synagogue’s monthly congregational dinner, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. JSDD’s marketing director, Monica Schneider-Brewer, will talk about the services provided at the WAE Center.
“We are showcasing the creative talents of people living with disabilities,” Cantor Kissner said.
There will be large-print prayer books and programs at the service, which will be held in a large space that “allows people with sensory issues to spread out if they need to be further away from sound or people.”
There will be two dinners on Friday, one beginning at 5:15 and the other at 7. “The reason we do this is because there are certain people who have medication and behavioral needs that make it so they can’t attend a dinner at 7 p.m.,” Cantor Kissner said.
She has an almost 3-year-old son, Raz, with a neurological disorder similar to cerebral palsy. “I’ve learned a lot from the leaders of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee,” she said. “I have personal radar for accessibility and inclusion. It’s something I deal with every single day of my life.
“As a parent, I’m trying to advocate for my child to get the support he needs to have a beautiful, thriving, meaningful life.”