TORONTO — Saturday has become the favourite day of the week for Reena clients and staff who live at 40 Elway Court, says Sarah Boyd, a Reena support worker.
Beth Torah’s Purim Carnival
“We dress up and attend Shabbat services at Beth Torah Congregation,” Boyd said.
Reena is an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities.
“In a society where our population is often greeted with trepidation, and sometimes even disdain, the congregation at Beth Torah has quite literally opened its arms and embraced us into their midst,” Boyd said.
“Beth Torah Congregation lives and breathes integration, tolerance and compassion.”
Boyd said that when the group arrives at the synagogue, located at at 47 Glenbrook Ave., they are warmly greeted and guided to their seats. Clients have been invited up to read and participate in returning the Torah scroll to the ark.
She noted their excitement and said that “the participants talk about it for days afterwards.”
Beth Torah’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yossi Sapirman, preaches tolerance, compassion and good judgment, she said. “This is reflected in the synagogue’s open-door policy toward our clients.”
Referring to his shul’s recently completed building campaign and renovation, Rabbi Sapirman told The CJN, “We are a welcoming community, and the congregants of Beth Torah recognize that ‘Completing the Dream’ did only happen when all were included and our remarkable new facility was accessible to all.”
Boyd said that she also gets something from the experience.
“Even though I’m not Jewish, I always come away with a nugget of spiritual wisdom from Rabbi Sapirman’s sermons, which are finely crafted and often very humourous,” she said.
At the end of the service, Cantor David Young invites several of the Reena clients up to the reading platform to sing with him and the choir.
She said Reena client Sharon Abramowitz has been known to wave her arms in the air and conduct the choir and the rest of the congregation in the songs at the end of the Shabbat services.
Boyd added that Abramowitz “literally beams with joy as she sings Ya’aseh Shalom.”
And at the conclusion of the service, the group is invited upstairs for a delicious and healthy Kiddush lunch. “This gives our clients a chance to socialize with the members of the congregation, some of whom greet them with familiar hellos and warm hugs,” Boyd said.
“The clients love attending the services and love the singing and the music. They look forward to each Shabbat.”
The Reena clients are also welcomed to other Beth Torah events.
“We particularly enjoyed the Purim carnival, where they participated in the games and enjoyed the refreshments,” Boyd said.
Last year, Reena clients joined a group from Beth Torah on UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Walk for Israel.
On April 22, the shul will receive a Community Inclusion Award of Excellence from Itanu Toronto, federation’s “Inclusion Initiative,” whose mission is “a more inclusive Jewish community where people with special needs are able to fully participate in educational, spiritual, communal, social and recreational activities.”