Temple Isaiah

Lafayette, California, USA

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

About the Congregation

Temple Isaiah

945 Risa Road

Lafayette, CA 94549-3410

Number of Congregants: 2,665

Contact Information

Debbie Kirsch, Executive Director



Temple Isaiah is more than a synagogue – it’s a Jewish Neighborhood!  Here you will find learning and purpose, friendship and celebration.

Temple Isaiah’s mission is to embody, enhance and perpetuate our Jewish tradition by providing a welcoming spiritual home where the membership gathers to worship God, study Torah, engage in acts of Tikun Olam, participate in Jewish rituals and life cycle events, and experience the joy of being a part of a caring community.

As the oldest and largest synagogue in Contra Costa County, our roots lie deep in a uniquely Californian, vibrant approach to Jewish tradition and innovation.  We embrace all who come through our doors with warmth and caring, with an openness to diversity and a commitment to the dignity of each person in our midst.  We use our hearts, minds and hands to fulfill in modern times the ancient prophetic call to social justice.

Temple Isaiah is a Jewish Neighborhood of spirituality and study, a place filled with God’s spirit and human kindness.  We know there is a place for you in our community—join us!

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

The Temple Board has embraced the concept of inclusion for years and each new board has brought new steps toward creating the Jewish Neighborhood that welcomes all to come worship, find learning and purpose, friendship and celebration.

Number of people involved in the effort: 2,000

Involving People with Disabilities

Family members and adult individuals with disabilities were, and currently are participants in committees or planning groups to customize support and access to all aspects of our community. All youth programs consult parents as partners to collaborate to provide the best experience for each student. Our educational programs acknowledge learning differences and provide different modes of learning so all children will have a successful experience of Jewish Education. A Learning Specialist helps parents and teachers select and monitor progress in learning modes, and Special Needs Aid provides a one on one aide with those students who need the most support and guidance.

Our Mental Illness program strives to provide education to reduce the stigma and empower our congregation with knowledge and understanding. We have a support group for family members of adults with mental illness, and we have a support group for congregants that struggle with mental illness. All of these groups and programs were designed by committees consisting of those with, or supporting, a family member with mental illness.

Funding This Effort

Funding came from various sources: Our Temple budget process gave priority to creating inclusive childhood programs, however grants and contributions from private donors made up the difference. The mental illness program called, P'tach Libeynu, sought out grant funding from health care, city, and Jewish Foundations. The architectural and physical changes were designed into our remodeling plans over the past 20 years and were funded in large part by our building fund campaign.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

Rabbi Greninger, Director of Education, worked with David Neufeld at Jewish Learning Works.

Our preschool director, Liz Kaufman, works with Nina Vincent, Inclusion Facilitator at Contra Costa Child Care Council.

We convened a group of community partners, forming P'tach Libeynu: Open Our Hearts (PL) to address the stigma of mental illness in the Jewish community. Partners included three Contra Costa County synagogues, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the following agencies: Jewish Children's and Family Services of the East Bay, Jewish Federation of the East Bay, Bay Area Jewish Healing Center and the Union of Reform Judaism.

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

Our Shabbat Announcements include an inclusive statement about our welcoming adults and children with special needs. The announcement also includes information about Hearing Devices and how to obtain for use during the service.

Our Religious School information packet includes an overview of our support to students with learning differences, developmental differences or mental illness. It includes the “parents as partners” statement of the need for collaboration and strong communication between parents, teachers and the Learning Specialist.

Our Mental Illness awareness program, P'tach Libeynu: Open our Hearts, has an extensive network to both seek out those in need of help and support, and a regional and limited national network to share tools and information developed in our congregation with others. P'tach Libeynu presented a clergy and leadership half day retreat in November 2010. Clergy and leaders from ten local synagogues used scripture and real situations to explore responses to congregants’ needs. In 2012 we partnered with Temple Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA on a URJ grant to develop and distribute a facilitator guide for synagogues to start support groups and a training pamphlet for making home visits to families dealing with mental illness. These unique materials were presented at the December 2013 URJ Biennial meeting along with a workshop highlighting Temple Isaiah's PL program. In addition, Women of Reform Judaism-Pacific District will distribute these materials and Temple Isaiah's story. Temple Isaiah also holds monthly support groups for individuals and family members of adults with mental illness. These groups are also attended by members of our partner-congregations, and others outside our faith community. We continue to educate congregants in order to create a stigma-free supportive community for individuals and families. PL creates monthly newsletters announcing support groups, information action items and speaker announcements which is distributed to partner congregations to publish in their newsletters and manage a website page containing similar information. Rabbi Shanks focused her 2013 Kol Nidre sermon on inclusion for those with mental disabilities. Many of PL's speaker/educational programs are advertised to the general public, NAMI, and our local Jewish Family and Children's Services so that all in need may attend.

Process & Sharing

Marketing Documents Indicating Our Commitment to Inclusion

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

Inclusion is a multi-level process. Most start with architectural and physical but that is just the beginning. Here are the areas we have focused on so far, however we know that there is much more to do:

-Buildings are wheelchair accessible with ramps or elevators. During worship, assisted listening devices and large print prayer books are available. High Holy Days services are streamed to give access to those who are unable to come.

-Temple Isaiah extends inclusion to those with learning/mental health issues.

-Our adult choir welcomes adults with a variety of special needs. Those with mental health disabilities are embraced by the choir community and featured as soloists to build self-esteem and lift them up as honored members of our community.

-We have created a structure for our B'nai Mitzvah program that allows every student to participate in this seminal rite of passage by customizing the service and the preparation for students with a variety of special needs (e.g. chanting their Torah portion in English, adjusting the structure and length of the services).

-Our summer youth day camp staff training emphasizes that each camper is unique and it is the responsibility of counselors to cater to their strengths and individual needs. We coordinate with parents, work one-on-one with campers and are thus able to accommodate youth with needs.

-The religious school enrollment forms ask about special needs, and staff members work with parents to serve all youth. In addition, we have special needs teachers on staff and developed curriculum tracks (e.g., music, outdoors, building projects) to engage youth with a wide spectrum of emotional and physical disabilities.

-Our mental health efforts provide support and education for those in our community. Currently we are providing education on Mental Health First Aid, a class designed to help us recognize the signs of mental illness and to provide first responder techniques to calm the situation until help can be obtained. We have designed both a pamphlet to help our congregants make visits to those with mental illness, and a guide to help congregations start support groups for families and individuals in their congregation with mental illness.

History, Materials & Process Links

History, Materials & Process Documents

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

Our clergy have all worked closely with families throughout the years to provide meaningful B'nai Mitzvah experiences for their children with special needs. We receive wonderful feedback from those families all the time. Families with special needs share their experiences with other families with similar situations and as a result our congregation and religious school continue to thrive.

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

Change is occurring and can be measured by the care our Teachers Assistants (TAs) take with the students in their classrooms. These TAs are post-B'nai Mitzvah students that work in the classroom for an honorarium that may be used for Jewish education. They are observed demonstrating kindness, understanding, and acceptance as they perform their duties with the children in their classrooms.

Change is also occurring regarding the stigma of mental illness. Congregants are more likely to share their stories of mental illness with each other or the congregation. One young woman stood up at Simcha time at services and shared her happiness to be in recovery for two years. Others approached her during the Oneg and congratulated her and shared their stories of mental illness too. It's coming out of the shadows and that's a start. Members tell us they feel the change.

We have a few congregants who use wheel chairs that participate frequently in Temple life. Several times in a week they will be at our Jewish Neighborhood, attending classes, lunches, or spiritual worship. Our staff is there to help them, should they need transportation between buildings, or assistance getting from their car to the sanctuary. Other congregants, organized by our Angel Network, will provide transportation to the Temple as needed and assist them in getting to their location.

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

The next steps will include setting up an inclusion committee to oversee all of our individual efforts at Temple Isaiah. The study sessions and resources will be invaluable in educating all our volunteers and assisting us in our continued efforts to be an inclusive congregation.

Future Inclusion Efforts

Temple Isaiah's next step will include a committee to provide oversight to all inclusion efforts. Our current focus is on our aging population, trying to provide a system of contact, care, and visits so that they won't live in isolation.

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