Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot

Irvine, California, USA

Areas of Inclusion: Adults in Communal Life, Advocacy & Community Partnerships, Architectural & Physical Accommodations and Transportation, Autism, B’nai Mitzvah, Early Childhood Education, General Inclusion, Mental Health, Religious School, and Youth Group, High School, and College Programming

About the Congregation

Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot

3652 Michelson Drive

Irvine, CA 92612

Number of Congregants: 625

Contact Information

Rabbi Leah Lewis, Rabbi and Director of Lifelong Learning, The Jaffe Family Rabbinic Chair

(949) 857-2226

Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot is a Reform Jewish community that provides a spiritual home guided by memory and mitzvah, committed to mentsch making and making meaning.

At Shir Ha-Ma’alot we believe that we have a sacred obligation to be guardians of the past and to remember those who came before us. We stand on their shoulders.  We use our collective Jewish memory to guide us on our paths, and to pass our tradition from generation to generation, in order to create new Jewish memories for those who come after us.

We are a community centered on good deeds.  We treat each other with kindness.  We are guided by the biblical dictum, “Love thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord (Lev. 19:18)” and the Talmudic dictum, “What is hateful to you, do not do to another person. (Hillel).” Our congregants and congregation as a whole will represent the best of humanity.

We recognize that every human being is created in God’s image. Our community emulates that Holy Reflection by teaching that everyone is special and has something unique to offer our community. In so teaching, we strive to further deepen our relationships to each other, to our community and to the Eternal One.

We recognize that Judaism marks time as holy. From our music to our meetings, every moment is a time to make meaning.  We treat each minute, from the classroom to the boardroom, as a gift from God to be used wisely.

We pride ourselves on being a warm, welcoming congregation with inspiring clergy and educators. Come discover why so many families choose SHM as their spiritual home and our school as the religious education destination for their children. Visit our website and then visit us!

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

Thirteen years ago, a group of parents sat down with the rabbi to discuss their needs and to brainstorm how to make the synagogue as inclusive as possible. From this, Brit Tikvah was born.

Brit Tikvah is a group of dedicated parents who act as a support group and board for our inclusion programs. They work intimately with clergy and staff for both religious school and temple events. They, in conjunction with the temple board, inclusion specialist, and clergy, develop policies.

Kesher is our religious school specific program for youth with special needs. Kesher classes are designed to individualize the learning experience for any child who needs it. In some cases, this is individual Hebrew tutoring, or more advanced materials, or even just a quiet place to sit out an over-stimulating event. The Kesher program is run by our inclusion specialist, Amy Kadell. Amy works with staff and parents to ensure that each student is receiving the best Jewish education for them.

Number of people involved in the effort: 40

Involving People with Disabilities

Primarily, these congregants are represented through the parents of children and young adults with special needs.

Funding This Effort

The only funding is through the Religious School budget for the Religious School component of the program. Costs are worked into general Religious School fees.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

Outreach for programs is done through the Regional Center of Orange County, special education organizations, advocates, etc. We have a Brit Tikvah email list compiled over the years that includes both synagogue members and non-members.

Links About Spreading Awareness

Process & Sharing

Marketing Documents Indicating Our Commitment to Inclusion

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

The Brit Tikvah Resource Guide (published annually) is available below. It includes helpful resources located throughout Southern California.

History, Materials & Process Documents

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

We hear all the time that people find our synagogue because it is so inclusive. Congregants are constantly referring friends and colleagues who are parents of children with special needs to our programs, and to become members of our synagogue and religious school. In particular, the number of students that our Religious School Inclusion Specialist works with each year increases.

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

Our youth programs and religious school classes in particular are wonderful at including children with disabilities. We challenge our students to confront the stigmas they hear about disabilities and really be engaged with their classmates with disabilities.

Because every child is different, and the nature of their disabilities is even more unique: each year our Kesher programs and policies are unique. In past years, it has been a completely separate class, with a different curriculum pace. This year, we have the “Kesher Lounge”. The Kesher lounge is a relaxing room, separate from the hustle and bustle of religious school. It is a place for any student who needs, to take a break during overwhelming periods during the day, whether that is transition times, game time, or anything else that might come up. We want to provide an environment where our students feel safe and cared for, not neglected. At the moment, all students are in grade sorted Judaica and Hebrew classes, with breaks and one-on-one tutoring sessions when and where it is needed. This has proved to be a valuable learning environment for all students of all abilities, as they learn and mature in their Jewish education. (We are in the business of making Mentsches!) Our madrichim are trained in how to deal with minor meltdowns, and how to give specific students the attention they need (as long as that is an appropriate role for that student and situation). Our inclusion specialist works with staff and Madrichim to keep training up to date.

For adults, we bring in speakers and make a general inclusion push during our annual Shabbat service in honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month. This includes physical, learning, and behavioral disabilities, as well as mental health issues. Two years ago Rabbi Lynne Landsberg came to our temple to speak at Shabbat services. Last year, we had a “sibling panel” where siblings of children with special needs came and spoke to/answered questions from the congregation. It was a really beautiful way for the entire congregation to engage with the challenges and uniqueness of having someone with special needs in their lives. In addition, last year, we had an especially engaging Shabbat service where Senator Darrell Steinberg, founder of the Steinberg Institute for Advancing Behavioral Health Policy & Leadership, spoke along with Ellyn Saks, a law professor who lives with schizophrenia.

Throughout the year, Brit Tikvah hosts and will host many speakers such as Gary Greene (developmental disabilities) and Linda Coss (food allergies). This February, they will head up our Shabbat Service honoring Jewish Disability Awareness Month, as well as a workshop on Parental Stress Reduction. All of these programs are in our annual program book, accompanied by flyers surrounding the dates, and advertising in other local Jewish communities (the JCC, nextGen Orange County, and local non-religious disability organizations).

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

We plan to incorporate this into our already wonderful inclusion staff and madrichim training.

Future Inclusion Efforts

We are in the early design phase for a total campus remodel. Accessibility will be taken into account at every step in the continuing design process, including audio and visual technologies, seating, restroom, and parking design, among other things.

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