Temple Sinai

Rochester, New York, USA

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

About the Congregation

363 Penfield Road

Rochester, NY 14625

Number of Congregants: 530

Contact Information

Jerry Elman

Inclusion Programming

Does this congregation have an inclusion committee?


Developing Our Program

Inclusion efforts at Temple Sinai began in 1990 with formation of a Special Needs Committee, primarily to address problems of physical access to and within the synagogue building. The Committee’s input was solicited and essential in design of a new building addition in 2001-2002. There became a strong will among the congregation, Rabbi and leadership to seek a solution to inadequate bima access, and the committee was tasked with researching solutions. This culminated in 2006 with purchase of a wheelchair lift for use in the sanctuary. A core group of 5-10 people made some progress in other building improvements, and gave support to the Religious School for students with hearing impairments. This foundation provided a base for renewed interest from the renamed Accessibility and Inclusion Committee members to increase awareness and education at Temple Sinai. Recruitment of members with disabilities and those concerned about their needs occurred in 2017 through Temple Sinai Bulletin articles and meeting presentations soliciting participation. Aware that more needed to be done, under committee chairperson with university professor credentials regarding individuals with visual impairments, we consulted with the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester Director of Education and Engagement. This new group, with substantial personal and professional knowledge regarding living with disabilities, produced a congregation-wide survey which was conducted to assess members’ needs and concerns. (see attached file) This resulted in a renewed 3-pronged mission and sub-committees: “Education” focused on interfacing with the Religious School, including advocating for hiring of an Inclusion Consultant; “Accessibility” continued to address and seek creative solutions to our sanctuary’s bima access challenges; and “Awareness” brought more understanding at Sinai through Bulletin articles, culminating in presentation of Inclusion Awareness and Education Day in 2018. Featuring Shelly Christensen, co-founder of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, the day-long series of educational and interactive sessions attracted over 50 members, and resulted in a doubling of Accessibility and Inclusion Committee membership. See the attached Report to the Board of the event, which improved understanding among Board members of Inclusion issues.

Number of people involved in the effort: 60

Involving People with Disabilities

People with disabilities themselves or in family members make up over 50% of the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee. They are intimately involved in developing the action plans and programs that come from the committee.

Funding This Effort

Temple Sinai maintains an array of non-endowment funds, meant to be spent as needs arise; congregants are invited to make contributions as a way to honor a loved one’s memory or acknowledge a special occasion; this can readily be done via the Temple Sinai website. The stated purpose of the Accessibility & Inclusion Fund is “to pay for capital improvements and purchase of equipment so that everyone may have access to programs and facilities; to pay interpreters and other special needs assistants; to pay for programming.” Funds may be spent at the recommendation of the Committee, with the approval of the Vice President for Caring Community & Social Action.

Helpful Agencies & Organizations

Consultants: Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIID. See attached “Report to the Temple Sinai Board of Trustees”, from March 11, 2018 Temple Sinai Inclusion Awareness and Education Day. Her recommendations and observations have resulted in changes to language on the Temple Website and on documents, and have given impetus for current year programming, including a November 2018 “Panel Discussion of Members with Disabilities”
Community Agencies: Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, Director of Jewish Education and Engagement Rachel Kest. She assisted with creation of a Temple-wide survey of members regarding disability and inclusion needs and concerns in the congregation. (see attached file)
ASL Interpreter Fund Provides financial support and access to ASL interpreters for groups at Rochester synagogues and area Jewish events. Temple Sinai offered access to this for Inclusion Awareness and Education Day. alspanjer@jewishrochester.org

Spreading Awareness About Our Work

Temple Sinai Bulletin articles have made community members aware of the synagogue’s commitment to inclusion efforts and the March 2018 Inclusion Awareness and Education Day. Additionally, the event was publicized through the Jewish Federation of Rochester and other Rochester synagogues. The Temple Sinai website features language displaying the mindset of inclusion in Temple policies and approaches to membership activities.

Process & Sharing

History, Materials & Processes that Guided Our Approach

Temple Sinai’s movement to more inclusion has advanced most when a collaborative effort involving various groups has occurred. Shared goals of the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee, School of Jewish Life and Learning, Membership Committee, Social Action Committee, Religious Practices Committee, clergy and professional staff supported by leadership have allowed progress. Open and respectful communication has been a key to success. The attached document, “Report to the Temple Sinai Board of Trustees” represents a series of observations resulting from a collaborative discussion involving attendees at the March 2018 Inclusion Awareness and Education Day. Recommendations from this report have begun being implemented. Efforts to expand the membership numbers on the Committee have been important and helpful, leading to additional insights and advancement of Temple Sinai’s mission. A Panel Discussion of Members with Disabilities on November 11 2018 will enhance awareness among all synagogue members. (see attached file)

Evidence of Successful Inclusion Efforts

In the past year a new member family including a child with significant educational and behavioral disabilities joined Temple Sinai, and became active on the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee. Other existing member households with disabled children remain involved and active. One of these children, with multiple severe disabilities, will celebrate becoming a bar mitzvah in September 2018. The family has worked with the rabbis and staff so all necessary accommodations are available, including conducting the service on the sanctuary floor level. Additionally, the March 2018 Inclusion Awareness and Education day was attended by several families with disabled members. At least one joined the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee as a direct result of the event, and another was connected with a community agency providing services about which they were previously unaware.
Attached is a survey of members used to assess needs related to disabilities among members

Evidentiary Documents

Evidence of Changing Attitudes

Members’ attitudes have changed as evidenced by the strong attendance at the Inclusion Education Day event, and from the support to make tangible changes at Temple Sinai from leaders representing various constituent groups. Temple leadership has approved plans to offer a six-week Beginning ASL course at Temple Sinai to be taught by local college ASL instructor and Jewish Deaf community member, with the goals of increasing ASL knowledge and Deaf cultural awareness and making Temple Sinai a welcoming environment for the deaf and hearing-impaired Jewish community.

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

The topics and study sessions will be described in a future Temple Sinai Bulletin article and Temple Sinai Snippets online weekly newsletter. Links to these will be offered including on the Temple website, encouraging members to access these and learn from them. The Temple President and relevant VPs will

Future Inclusion Efforts

In the Fall of 2018, the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee will present a panel discussion featuring Temple Sinai members with disabilities. The purpose will be to deeper the understanding by the broader membership of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities participating in synagogue life.
A member of the Accessibility & Inclusion Committee with expertise in deaf education and linguistics, who works developing American Sign Language (ASL) assessments at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) Center on Cognition & Language, is organizing a six-week Beginning ASL course at Temple Sinai to be taught by local college ASL instructor and Jewish Deaf community member, with the goals of increasing ASL knowledge and Deaf cultural awareness and making Temple Sinai a welcoming environment for the deaf and hearing-impaired Jewish community.
During Jewish Disability Awareness Month in February 2019, the weekly Shabbat services will be devoted to acknowledging different disability challenges. The following will be incorporated into services supplemented with activities developed by the rabbis, cantor and the Accessibility and Inclusion Committee members: visual impairments; mental health; developmental and mobility; deaf and hard of hearing.

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