By Barbara Murray,
WJCS Havorah Coordinator
In Hebrew, the word Havorah is “Chavurah,” which comes from the root of the word for friend. It’s in the spirit of friendship and community that WJCS Havorah program welcomes individuals with disabilities who live in community residences, independently or with their families, to celebrate Jewish holidays and traditions together.
WJCS Havorah hosts eight events a year, each one hosted by one of our Partners in Caring synagogues. Invitations are sent to our 13 WJCS group homes as well others throughout Westchester County. Individuals with disabilities who live at home with their families are welcome to attend as well. Each event is coordinated by a combination of volunteers from our host synagogues, children, teens, adults, and clergy with the goal of creating a meaningful Jewish program.
Havorah gatherings provide a unique experience--not just for the synagogue guests and their caretakers but also for the larger community. As the program has evolved, it has become a natural and organic teaching opportunity for members of each temple to learn about and socialize with people with disabilities. A number of our partnering temples have integrated our program into their school curriculum. Using a variety of Jewish texts, there is discussion about the importance of middot—kind actions and virtues. Celebrating holidays with individuals who have disabilities has become a springboard for increased understanding about differences, empathy, and acceptance.
Being part of the larger Westchester Jewish community through the sharing of song, story, dance, and, of course a snack, allows for each individual who is part of Havorah to have an experience of Jewish life and culture that meets them where they are developmentally. It also creates wonderful experiences for the larger community. Over 100 people attending our Chanukah celebration at Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) this year. The attendees were a mix of our individuals with disabilities and their caregivers, volunteer lay members of WRT, and the members of the WRT confirmation class. The event began in the sanctuary with Rabbi David Levy and Cantor Amanda Kleinman talking about Chanukah, singing songs, and sharing stories. Havorah guests then moved into the festively decorated social hall for latkes, applesauce, and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
Everyone sat together at tables and, as teens got up to sing accompanied by a pianist, all of the guests were invited to come up and join them in song or to share a story. A number of women from our WJCS CHAI House got up and sang Chanukah songs. This continued for about 30 minutes with teens and guests singing and clapping along.
When a woman from one of our residences came up and began singing, we noticed her house manager begin to tear up. She shared with us that her resident had not spoken to anyone outside of the house in weeks, including at her day program. Yet the teen got up and sang before everyone at the Havorah event. She looked so happy, making it a beautiful moment for her house manager—and all of us--to witness.
Havorah will be celebrating Purim, Passover, Shabbat and more in the months to come. If you are interested in attending or volunteering contact Barbara Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Havorah is funded exclusively through the generosity of individual donors. Anyone interested in supporting Havorah, contact Susan Lewen, WJCS Chief Development Officer, at email@example.com.