By Lynne B. Edelman, The Jewish Exponent
More than 120 community members gathered at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park for a festive celebration of Chanukah. Volunteers from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Renaissance Group, Adath Jeshurun, Old York Road USY and Repair the World helped to make the day a special one for the more than 70 men and women with disabilities who attended.
The celebration — featuring music by Bruce Fagan, a craft project and traditional holiday noshes — was sponsored by In-Joy, a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia that offers inclusive Jewish occasions year-round.
“This was one of our most successful In-Joy programs ever,” said Eli Schostak, director of Individual and Family Services for JFCS, an agency that has served people with disabilities for more than 50 years.
The Chanukah party is one of four Jewish holiday celebrations offered throughout the year that enables adults with disabilities to feel part of the mainstream Jewish community. “Our clients, feel comfortable in coming to our In-JOY programs. They love seeing their friends, dancing, enjoying good food and celebrating together,” Schostak said, adding that many of them also receive other services provided by JFCS, including life skills, socialization, assistance in obtaining benefits and entitlements, financial assistance and helping young people transition to adulthood and/or independent living.
“We are committed to helping these men and women live as independently and passionately as possible,” said Lisa Ney, the assistant director of Individual and Family Services for JFCS. Ney asserts that these holiday celebrations benefit all in attendance.
“They allow our clients to fully participate in the Jewish community while also increasing community awareness, sensitivity and creating values of caring for others.”
Federation’s Renaissance Group did a smaller program with JFCS in the spring. “It was a really wonderful day where our members really had an opportunity to bond with JFCS clients,” Renaissance officer Melanie Krutzel said.
She added that Renaissance staff and leadership connected with JFCS staff immediately following the event to “see how we could continue the collaboration and create more inclusive programming.” Krutzel cites the Chanukah celebration as a prime example of “the amazing work that JFCS is doing and a perfect way for our volunteers to celebrate Chanukah and create community.”
Renaissance Group’s chair, Danielle Weiss, is not surprised that so many Renaissance members turned out to volunteer. “We look for opportunities to engage with as many members of our community as possible — and in a hands-on way whenever we can,” she explains. “Ren has a very active Mitzvah Committee, led by Leah Howard and Daniel Levine, that has a full calendar of meaningful opportunities for the upcoming year.”
Schostak and Ney expressed their gratitude to Rabbi Elisa Goldberg, director of Jewish Community Services at JFCS and Rabbi Ephraim Levin of Tikvah/AJMI, a grassroots nonprofit Jewish organization committed to improving the quality of life for adults with mental illness, for adding a spiritual dimension to the celebration.
For further information about upcoming In-Joy events or other JFCS services for adults with disabilities, call Ney at 267-256-2269 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Federation’s Renaissance group for Jewish men and women ages 22-45, visit: jewishphilly.org/ren.