Bet Shalom Congregation

Minnetonka, Minnesota, USA

Areas of Inclusion: Adults in Communal Life, Advocacy & Community Partnerships, Architectural & Physical Accommodations and Transportation, Autism, B’nai Mitzvah, Deafness, General Inclusion, Mental Health, Religious School, and Worship

About the Congregation

Bet Shalom Congregation

13613 Orchard Road

Minnetonka, MN 55305

Number of Congregants: 800

Contact Information

Rabbi Norman Cohen


Bet Shalom is a diverse group of Jews from as nearby as Minnetonka and as far away as St. Cloud.  We welcome people of all abilities and strive to provide meaningful spiritual, educational and social opportunities to all of our congregants.  Our activities include, but are not limited to, weekly Shabbat services, holiday services, social action activities, education for our children and our adult members.  As an extension of Jewish life in our homes, Bet Shalom strives to be a warm and welcoming family of friends – a dynamic, participatory, inclusive community committed to lifelong learning, worship, celebration, and deeds of loving kindness.

Bet Shalom strives to provide the resources and environment conducive to cultivating Jewish identity and values within our secular world.  Our Rabbis taught: “Our world stands on three things – torah, avodah (worship), and gemilut chasadim (deeds of loving kindness).”  We consider these to be foundation pillars of our community.

We are committed to lifelong Jewish learning and living.  Bet Shalom is a place for Jews and their families to deepen their knowledge of Jewish life, ritual and the Hebrew language, and to enhance their observance of Reform Judaism.  We are devoted to Jewish worship of God, spiritual fulfillment, ritual and participation in life cycle events.  We are dedicated to tikkun olam – the repairing of our world through the pursuit of tzedakah (justice), peace and deeds of loving kindness.  Through our actions, we strive to fulfill our Jewish responsibility to care for our community, our nation, Israel and our world.

We at Bet Shalom believe in being responsive to the diverse needs of our congregants by building a caring inclusive community that we are pleased to call our “family of friends”.  We are sensitive to the need for inclusion of both traditional and non-traditional family structures.  We welcome individuals and families who are committed to preserving a Jewish way of life.

We strive to be an intimate community and seek to make Judaism accessible through multiple avenues for participation in synagogue life – from worship to celebration, committee work, education and participation in various chavurot (common interest groups based on the Jewish values of community and friendship).

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

The Bet Shalom culture is built on the concept that we are a “Family of Friends.” Since its inception in 1981, Bet Shalom has provided support and encouraged participation by people with disabilities. In our early years, our Confirmation class identified the need for a ramp to the Bima so that one of the members of the class who used a wheelchair could access the Bima. In planning the renovation of an older structure as our first congregational home, an elevator was installed so people using mobility devices could participate in all synagogue activities. Children with disabilities have always participated in our religious school classrooms with their peers as we made appropriate accommodations to ensure meaningful participation. We began celebrating B’nai Mitzvah of children with autism as far back as the 1980’s. When Bet Shalom outgrew that congregational home, we included people with disabilities on our building committee to ensure that people who needed accommodations to access all areas of the building were involved from the beginning. As the congregation continued to grow, professional and lay leadership embraced the need for an Inclusion Committee to raise awareness, collaborate with staff, the board and other committees, and to provide resources and support so that inclusion was an important element of all activities and programs. Bet Shalom was one of the pioneers in the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, a community-wide initiative that supported Jewish organizations and convened a collaborative effort between synagogues. Our Inclusion Committee, chaired by a congregant who has a disability, formalized a process to deeply examine all of Bet Shalom’s programs, activities, services, and the physical plant and developed a road map for the congregation to follow. Bet Shalom was among the first congregations in the country to participate in Jewish Disability Awareness Month in 2009, the inaugural year. Determined to increase awareness, our Inclusion Committee worked with a congregant who is a filmmaker and created a short film about inclusion, hope and belonging that continues to be viewed to this day. In 2013 our Rabbis led the Religious School in a ceremony to lower the height of all of the Mezuzot in our building to a height that could be reached by people of short stature, those who use wheelchairs, and our youngest members. In 2014, we re-graded the entrance to our Holocaust Memorial Garden, creating universal access for any person who would like to visit this area.

Number of people involved in the effort: 180

Pinpointing a number is difficult to do. Our entire professional staff, our board, and committees are involved, as inclusion of all is a key component of our congregation. We have many members who use mobility devices, assistive listening devices and large print materials. The Jewish special education program of Minneapolis provides special education services to our staff, as well as to some of our students.

We believe that people have unique strengths and abilities, and our B’nai mitzvah students are no exception. Every student is taught according to his or her strengths. Our goal is to engage students and families in this pivotal time in a young person’s life.

Funding This Effort

A variety of resources, mostly congregational support. One of our confirmation classes funded the ramp to the Bima; ADA requirements were met as part of the overall cost of our new building. Special Education costs come from our education line. We also believe that accommodations do not have to be costly and have many ways of implementing practices and changing attitudes that have no price tag. For instance, lowering the Mezuzot required no cost.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis:
Supported Bet Shalom in advancing the work of the Inclusion Committee; provided resources and guidance; led a community collaboration of congregations and Jewish organizations; helped us with Jewish Disability Awareness Month; provided training on building accessibility.

Autism Society of Minnesota:
Provided guidance on working with students with autism in religious school and B’nai mitzvah tutoring as well as supporting adults with autism spectrum disorders in the congregation.

The Jewish special education organization in Minneapolis provides one on one special education tutoring to some of our students; collaborates with our religious school and parents to develop individual learning plans; provides training.

The architect we hired to design our new building, Bentz, Thompson and Reitow have expertise in ADA compliance.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

We use our weekly email blast, monthly newsletter, website and our pulpit to share with others; our film has raised awareness; meetings with community collaboration partners. Bet Shalom has been featured several times in local and national Jewish and secular press as a leader in building design and inclusive practices.

Inclusion at Bet Shalom is a value and one of the hallmarks of our culture. Since our founding 34 years ago, we have eliminated barriers for many people who, at one time, were not comfortable with their Jewish synagogue options. From gay and lesbian Jews, interfaith families, Jews of color, individuals and families who moved into the Minneapolis community from myriad cities and locales, as well as people who grew up in the Twin Cities and sought a more friendly and welcoming community, Bet Shalom is a place where individuals and families know they belong.

Process & Sharing

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

Throughout our website are articles, photos, videos and policy statements about inclusion. The website itself is not accessible for those who use screen readers, which is something we must address. Attached is the file of our visioning session results.

History, Materials & Process Documents

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

Attached documents indicate how welcome families and people with disabilities feel at Bet Shalom.

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

A congregation that is inherently inclusive must continue to raise awareness and educate all sectors of community life, and stay engaged in the evolution of best practices and thought. Inclusion is not something that we do in one area of synagogue life. It is woven into every aspect and as such, we must be mindful and active in pursuing our mission of inclusion. One member of our Board of Trustees has a visible disability. This person is active in Torah study, chairs a committee and works collaboratively with our congregation to support people with disabilities. Throughout the year we invite speakers to address specific topics, such as including people with mental health diagnoses in congregational life, fostering dialogue, and supporting individuals who live with stigma in other parts of their lives. All of our students celebrate becoming a bar or bat mitzvah at our Shabbat morning congregational services, teaching and leading us in prayer and Torah and Haftarah reading and interpretation, as a new adult member of our congregation. The public engagement of the congregation in inclusion is important to changing attitudes. It is, however, the building of individual relationships that adds the depth of understanding and recognition of common interests. People with disabilities are not the “other” at Bet Shalom. People share friendships, Shabbat and holiday dinners, a congregational Kallah, and meet up with each other at services, programs, study and social events.

How We're Using and Sharing the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center

Promote Bet Shalom as an Exemplar Congregation in social media, website (with links to the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center), use appropriate resources for staff and lay leader training, Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month.

Future Inclusion Efforts

Bet Shalom is committed to including all people and has had a long history of welcoming and supporting them.

« Back to the Exemplar Congregations