Shabbat is here, Shabbat is here!
I’m so glad that Shabbat is here!
is playing his guitar and singing a simple Sabbath tune to about 50 adults with developmental special needs and their caretakers. This congregation has been meeting once a month at since the mid-1990s.
The Moses Program was established in the North Hollywood synagogue in 1984, while Rabbi Kaufman was the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Hillel and before the Americans with Disabilities Act was ever imagined. It was intended to fund architectural changes to make the temple physically accessible and to welcome disabled Jews into regular Sabbath services.
“We named the group Moses because Moses had a disability. He had a speech impediment,” Rabbi Kaufman told me.
The only program of its kind at the time, it attracted worshipers from all over Los Angeles and won several awards.
Since the ADA was implemented and every public building in the country became accessible, the evolved to serve another disenfranchised population.
“Now the program is primarily focused on providing a Jewish experience for those who live in places like Valley Village and New Horizons,” said Rabbi Kaufman, “ places that care for the developmentally disabled.”
Kaufman, now retired from Temple Beth Hillel but still warmly loved by his former congregants, volunteers at the Moses Program as well as myriad other social justice projects. I first met him at the , of which he was a founding member and where he now volunteers as ad hoc security and, perhaps, calming influence. He’s also on the board of Progressive Jewish Alliance, one of my favorites.
The rabbi estimates about 7 or 8 percent of those in this special congregation are Jewish.
He says, “If I invite only to this Hanukkah party the five Jews who live at Valley Village, the other 25 people would be upset and say, ‘Why are you going? How come we can’t get to go?’ So we fold in everybody.”
They all travel to church together on Sundays, too.
Tobi and David Schneider, whose late son Lance lived at New Horizons, run the Moses Program for the temple. Though it’s sometimes painful to return to services since Lance’s passing two years ago – Tobi teared up while talking to me – the couple has continued to serve these congregants. Tobi made the potato latkes for this Hanukkah service herself.
“Ten pounds of potatoes,” she declared when I asked her how many pancakes she'd fried.
Services are held once a month, always followed by refreshments. Anyone who would like to attend is welcome. Contact Tobi Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.