Congregation Sha’aray Shalom

Hingham, Massachusetts, USA

Areas of Inclusion: Adults in Communal Life, Advocacy & Community Partnerships, Architectural & Physical Accommodations and Transportation, B’nai Mitzvah, Deafness, Early Childhood Education, Religious School, and Worship

About the Congregation

Congregation Sha'aray Shalom

1112 Main Street

Hingham, MA 02043

Number of Congregants: 282 Families.

Contact Information

Cantor Steven Weiss, Director of Education


Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

Our inclusion committee was developed at the request of the clergy and interested congregants who wanted to see the synagogue look at a much more expanded definition of inclusion rather than just in our religious school where significant effort has already been made in the area of inclusion of students with special needs.

We have gone to great lengths to ensure that all students regardless of educational or emotional issues can find a place within our congregation. We have a special needs coordinator whose role is to facilitate whatever special accommodations are necessary to allow students who learn differently to thrive in our religious school. This may take the form of having additional individual or group tutoring, or having a one-to-one student aide shadow the student during class. We have had great success with this type of assistance.

Number of people involved in the effort: 150

Involving People with Disabilities

Three to four people on the committee, including the chair, have disabilities.

Funding This Effort

No funds have been expended as of yet with regard to systems or materials that may be needed to assist in our inclusion efforts. Our Special Needs Coordinator position was created four years ago through a grant from CJP and Gateways. That position is now fully funded through the synagogue religious school budget.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

Initially we worked with Gateways to develop the special needs school position and were supported through their professional development programs. Combined Jewish Philanthropies have also been supportive of our efforts.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

We are currently focusing on our community. The clergy is mentioning programs from the Bima, we are including information in our regular communications, and the ushers are informed so they can point out accommodations as needed.

Process & Sharing

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

We are working on updating all of our information. It is included in the religious school handbook.

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

Anecdotally, members have appreciated access to large-print prayer books and the regular babysitting during our Visual T’filah services. People have been thrilled to hear about the inclusion committee and have been very supportive.

We continue to strive towards better inclusion in all aspects of synagogue life and go to great lengths to achieve that goal. We focus much of our efforts on the synagogue worship service in a number of ways.

First, a number of years ago as we saw the aging of our population and more people with hearing difficulties come to the synagogue, we installed an assisted listening system in our sanctuary, social hall, and in the new library. In that way, we provide listening assistance not just for worship, but also for adult education.

Second, we introduced visual T’filah...worship using PowerPoint rather than prayer books. Many people find the prayer book too heavy or difficult to read. Visual T’filah utilizes a large screen which can be seen from anywhere in the sanctuary. We also use that service as an opportunity to welcome families with young children by providing babysitting during Visual T’filah.

We have received a great deal of positive feedback for these innovations.

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

Our Shul has always been non-judgmental, but now more students with special needs are enrolled in our school. Families feel supported and uplifted by the efforts made to assure that every child receives a meaningful Jewish education regardless of the challenges at hand.

As discussed earlier, our religious school program is an excellent example. In the last year alone two students who have learning as well as emotional and behavioral difficulties became Bar Mitzvah at our synagogue. Their preparation was done by our special needs coordinator with support from both the Rabbi and the Cantor. We planned extra months to allow for the best outcome possible. Members of the community were amazed at how these two young men stood proudly on their special day and led the service with poise and confidence. These two boys struggle in their everyday life and school but at our synagogue they were accepted, and we were all uplifted by their accomplishments.

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

We have begun to use the study sessions from the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center with our religious school staff and have been encouraging them to take the time to go through the site and find topics that interest them. We will be using the site with our synagogue leaders as well so that all parties—professional and lay leadership—can gain a more thorough understanding of the issues and solutions.

Future Inclusion Efforts

Updating all synagogue information, website etc., expanding the babysitting program, and increasing the size of the inclusion committee. We will solicit the congregation as to what the next priorities should be. Additionally, we are working to make the synagogue completely nut free and to prioritize physical changes that need to be made to the building such as electronic opening doors and larger-print materials—not just prayer books but all the printed materials used at the synagogue.

The congregation is working together in partnership with the professional leadership to make sure that the congregation achieves a sense of complete inclusion for all who come through our doors.

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