TORONTO — Rabbi Marc Penner of Queens, N.Y., will join two Toronto rabbis for a May 15 panel presentation on “Special Needs: What Halachah Expects from the Community.”
Rabbi Marc Penner
The Sunday morning event is organized by DANI (Developing and Nurturing Independence), an organization for young adults with physical and/or cognitive challenges. It runs from 9:30 to 11:45 at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (BAYT), and admission is free.
Rabbi Asher Vale, the BAYT’s interim rabbi, and Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, rosh beit midrash of Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash, which is affiliated with Yeshiva University, will round out the panel, with Rabbi Vale introducing and moderating the discussion.
Rabbi Penner – spiritual leader of a Young Israel congregation and an administrator at Yeshiva University – is the father of 15-year-old Matis, who has autism.
The rabbi refers to his son as a “superstar, because he can do lots of great things despite his challenges,” he told The CJN in a phone interview last week. A marathon runner, Matis works part time and has a role in his synagogue.
“A lot of it is learning to celebrate what people can do,” said Rabbi Penner, whose remarks will address parents of special needs children as well as the greater community.
“I think there is a lot that needs to be changed,” he added. “Small needs and small changes can make a big difference.”
Rabbi Torczyner, whose kollel is involved in supervising the kashrut of DANI’s new catering initiative, said that, as a rabbi, he’s seen the importance of addressing the issues facing special needs families. Among them are how to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs, and mainstream versus separate education.
“It’s very clear there is a need to do more,” he said.
Susie Sokol, who co-founded DANI with Kathy Laszlo, is co-sponsoring the panel with her sisters to honour the memory of their parents, Olly and Bumi Mittelman.
The more community connection that people with special needs have, the better it is for them, particularly as their parents age, Sokol said.
DANI has had wonderful support from the Jewish community since its inception in 2005, she added. “We’re the first generation who has included our kids everywhere.”