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Finding a Truly Accepting Shul is Hard but We Hit the Jackpot

Looking for an Inclusive Jewish Preschool

When Roo was about to enter into preschool (nursery in Europe), I wanted him to go to a Jewish school. I knew B needed extra services and her mother was more involved and wanted her in a secular school so we respected that.

Anyway, we looked for Jewish schools that accepted the VPK voucher. That is a voucher for free preschool. The shul was a little bit of a drive. I met with the preschool director and explained that Roo is ADHD and both my husband and I are neurodivergent (back then I didn’t know this term but we explained it). We also explained that Bug, who was 3 at the time, was most likely autistic. `The director said we were welcome. They even went as far as to accept the daycare assistance just for us. I was blown away.

Positive Experience From the Beginning

Roo really loved it there. He learned a little Hebrew, besides me counting to 10 and telling him to be quiet. Being in this preschool taught him what he needed to know to earn the Macabee award in cub scouts. Thats the Cub Scout jewish award. So much so, when it came time to meet with the person from council at our house, N, who also went to this preschool had to be put in another room because he tried to “help” his brother with the award.

Soon after preschool, they named B with her Hebrew name when she was 5. She got to pick it out and she had a smile from ear to ear. They wanted to wait until she was healed from all her cleft palate surgeries so she could really enjoy it.

Being Presented with the Macabee Award

After talking to the person from Boy Scout council, the Rabbi was awarding Roo with his Macabee Award. There was another Cub Scout who was receiving it at the same time. When it was time to present the awards, the Rabbi said,”I need the fathers of these fine scouts up here, that includes you too, Nicholas.” The Rabbi goes out of his way to include him.

Supportive of our Non Biological Children

After getting to know us, they found out that B was actually our niece we have through the courts. Soon after, we were going for custody of J, A and D. They have been nothing but supportive of us getting the kids when my own family wanted nothing to do with any child that wasn’t biologically mine. They treat them all the same.

Now that we are getting B back, we are talking about having Potato named in temple and having B bat mitzvahed with Bug.

They Never Want Money to be a Barrier to Participate

They believe if there is an inability to afford something, that should never be a barrier. For example, when I registered Roo, they told me about a scholarship from the county Jewish Federation to help, on top of the assistance we were already receiving. I was blown away. I am not the one to ask for help, I usually just get it figured out. They just offer. I feel guilty for taking and they tell me not to.

Thats not all they did:

  • Gave a scholarship for religious school for each of my kids
  • Charged us NOTHING for each bar mitzvah
  • periodically emails us and asks us if we need food gift cards (we usually tell them no because we get snap until the last one because we are waiting for it to be approved again)
  • Invite us to different events and tell us we do not have to pay because they love our kids and love what we are doing with them

Accepting Us as We are

After meeting this Rabbi, there was a different one who retired when we joined, he wanted to meet with us to see exactly what everyone’s needs are. He took everything down, we gave him a brief reason why we don’t do ABA, he said it sounds barbaric and we never mentioned it again.

During J’s bat mitzvah lesson, he told her that he is adopted too. He talked her through the conversion process. He explained he had to do it when he was a kid too. There were four members of clergy and only 3 were needed. They were actually arguing on who was going to do it because they all wanted to. Made J feel great.

This year, A and N are in the same religious school class because they are in the same grade. I was told to call the teacher and I was thinking that it was going to be bad. Can I say I adore her? She started off by saying that she doesn’t believe in ABA and she does not make them sit. She lets them walk around the class room and do their thing. She sees while A is rocking, he is engaged and that was good enough. She said,”Engagement for them looks different and I hope this teaches the other kids to be accepting.” It was a FaceTime call but I wanted to hug her. All teachers need to be like this. The kids are happy when they get out of class and they are learning things. She wanted to know what their special interests are so she can connect with them.

On top of it, her mother is a diabetic and is learning from A about type one diabetes. We monitor him from the Dexcom while he is there.

Even with my husband and I, they know we struggle with executive dysfunction. They give us separate reminders on what is due when. They are extremely helpful as far as that goes. Rabbi is amused that we sign to the kids when we are out. To me, it’s an easier form of communication. It’s hard to speak and sign at the same time because the syntax is different. Cantor even wants to learn from me!

Even Accepting of my Goy Husband

When we joined, they knew that he isn’t jewish and had no desire to convert and that was fine. The Rabbi always went out of his way to include him. him not being Jewish just wasn’t a factor in that. Today is a perfect example. There was the 5th grade service (for A and N) and there is a prayer shawl called a tallit. The rabbi took 2 of them and had 8 tall fathers hold it up and had the kids run under it like it was the sea splitting, like in the Passover story. He looked right at Nick because he knew. Never did he say,”You cant do it because you aren’t Jewish.” Poor guy looked lost. But he had a great time up there.

Inclusive Religious Places Are Possible

I know we got extremely lucky with our synagogue. If you are having a hard time finding an accepting place, keep looking. Offer to educate your place if you have the spoons. They tell me that they learn so much from us and our kids. We don’t go as often as we would like because it is a huge production to get everyone out, ready on time and out the door. Other times I am just too tired from the week. Do not accept anything but accepting and willingness to learn.

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