Old York Road Temple – Beth Am

Abington, Pennsylvania, USA

Areas of Inclusion: Advocacy & Community Partnerships, Architectural & Physical Accommodations and Transportation, Autism, B’nai Mitzvah, Blindness, Deafness, General Inclusion, Parents of Children with Disabilities, Religious School, Technology, and Worship

About the Congregation

Old York Road Temple - Beth Am

971 Old York Road

Abington, PA 19001

Number of Congregants: 724

Contact Information

Bruce Sham

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

In 1988, at the request of a member family that their child with special needs be able to receive a Jewish education the infrastructure of what would be become a regionally acclaimed resource center was started. Now known as The Amanda Sham Resource Center for Children with Special Needs, this program attracted families throughout Philadelphia area searching for an accepting Religious School for ALL members of their family. While the initial focus was to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, many of these families ultimately became full participants in congregational life and were instrumental in the identification additional needs in the area of inclusion.

The 21st century brought major changes to Old York Road Temple – Beth Am’s physical structure with renovations to the main sanctuary, religious school and other areas to make the building fully accessible.

As families with special needs matured, attention turned to other areas of Jewish life leading to the eventual creation in 2010 of a Congregational Inclusion Committee with its own Mission and Vision Statements.

Number of people involved in the effort: 100

Involving People with Disabilities

Working collaboratively with staff, clergy and lay leaders, individuals with disabilities and their families have been and continue to be directly involved with the development of inclusion-related programs. Such involvement includes proposing and advocating for the creation of a Religious School resource room, providing input to the decision makers on accessibility-related modifications to the physical structure, participating in the creation and ongoing efforts of the Congregational Inclusion Committee, as well as other programs and services throughout the years including the Lamed Vavnik program, a social group that integrated with the youth group and confirmation academy.

Funding This Effort

While the resource room was initially staffed with volunteers, grants and other outside funding later allowed for the hiring a full time teacher and other supports. The capital campaign allowed Old York Road Temple -Beth Am to identify specific areas of need leading to the completion of accessible entrances and parking, an accessible bimah, an adjustable torah table, an elevator, a stairway chair lift, accessible bathrooms, and braille signage. Reflecting an ongoing commitment to inclusion, targeting fundraising and budgeting throughout the years has provided for the maintenance of a fully equipped resource center with modern adaptive technology, as well as hearing amplification devices, visual magnifiers, and large video screens in the sanctuary.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

Jewish Learning Venture provides ongoing support and training to teachers, clergy, teens and inclusion lay leaders. Working with Shelly Christensen’s Guide to Inclusion, the Lasko Foundation has also provided support in assessing strengths and weaknesses and a framework to identify and address needs relating to inclusion.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

Old York Road Temple -Beth Am’s website, virtual and written literature includes information about its inclusion related programs. Old York Road Temple -Beth Am also includes information about its programs in an online community calendar and in local Jewish publications. Member families also play a part in ‘spreading the word” as active participants in a variety of local organizations that support individuals with disabilities (e.g., constituent members of a local Special Needs Consortium).

Process & Sharing

Marketing Documents Indicating Our Commitment to Inclusion

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

Though Old York Road Temple - Beth Am has a long history of inclusionary practices, much of the current work is being done by the Congregational Inclusion Committee. The Congregational Inclusion Committee works hard to make sure inclusion-related issues are considered throughout congregational life by: educating and serving as a resource to lay leaders and staff, raising awareness about disabilities and inclusion, annually celebrating differences and unity during Jewish Disability Awareness Month, and continually inviting individuals with disabilities, professionals, therapists and others to join us in our sacred work.

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

Throughout the years, Old York Road Temple - Beth Am's reputation as an inclusive congregation and a leader in Jewish special-education has attracted many families from the Philadelphia area. These families as well as other individuals with disabilities are not only valued members but also fully participating and contributing members of our congregation.

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

As a result of our efforts, congregants with special needs and their families are increasingly participating in synagogue events, serving as lay leaders, and experiencing a sense of belonging in our community. Old York Road Temple-Beth Am is proud to identify itself as being inclusive and will continue to provide disability awareness and other programs to break down attitudinal barriers, and ensure that when it comes to inclusion that we "walk the walk".

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

The Co-chairs of the Congregational Inclusion Committee and Executive Vice President intend to share resources with clergy, staff and lay leaders and the new Rabbi Educator, work collaboratively to identify the materials that will bring the greatest benefit, and see to it that new strategies are implemented so that Old York Road Temple - Beth Am can continue to meet the needs of all of its congregants and be a welcoming place for people of all abilities.

Future Inclusion Efforts

Through the generosity of Herb and Roberta Kronstadt and Seymour Kalstein, Old York Road Temple - Beth Am is very excited to have endowed its educational program such that it can continue to provide religious education and Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation scholarships to members and non-members with learning differences. While Old York Road Temple - Beth Am is proud of its successes in the area of inclusion, it is committed to continuing to learn and grow such that people of all abilities always feel welcome and appreciated.

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