BNEI MITZVAH FOR NINE STATEN ISLAND MEN WITH DISABILITIES1

Families and friends gathered for a special Bar Mitzvah as nine adult men with disabilities were called to the Torah on Sunday at Arden Heights Boulevard Jewish Center. Rabbi Stephen Stern officiated at the ceremony for the men who ranged in ages from their 20s to their 40s. "Each achieved this rite of passage uniquely, some using words... others employing communicated assisted technology," said Bonnie Ferrando, fundraising chairwoman for AHBJC. "Family and friends participated by opening the ark and carrying the Torah."

Each celebrant used a special tallis, a prayer shawl signifying their having reached Jewish adulthood. Gifts of kiddush cups, engraved yarmulkes and Best Buy Gift cards were presented by the AHBJC garden club and Chaverim, which means "friends" in Hebrew, a Jewish Cultural Support program for families with disabled children coordinated by Glen Wechsler of the JCC. Each of the disabled men received a Bar Mitzvah certificate in the shape of a Torah scroll crafted by members of Lifestyles for the Disabled and donated by Richard Salinardi, president of Lifestyles. Presenters were: Mark and Lois Hirsch; Ms. Ferrando; Rosanne Rose; Bernie Kahn, temple president; Janice Katz; Joel Pinsker; Wechsler and Rabbi Stern.

"We began our Chaverim program with the help of Rabbi Stern," said Ms. Katz of New Springville. She founded Chaverim more than 15 years ago to fill the void of Jewish cultural support programs for families with disabled members. Her son and Bar Mitzvah Alex Katz, 21, is autistic and mentally challenged. "It is only fitting that Rabbi Stern lead our first group Bar Mitzvah," Ms. Katz said. "We have been shown such warmth and kindness" by the AHBJC board and garden club, Ms. Katz said. Rebbetzin Bonita Sussman of Temple Emanu-El has assisted with Chaverim fund-raising and programs have been held at her synagogue . "Glen Wechsler continues to make Chaverim the special program it is," Ms. Katz said. "My son, despite his disability, has exceeded any expectations that I had." "We practiced the Torah blessings every day since last September and he was able to recite them at the ceremony like a typical Bar Mitzvah."

In addition to Alex Katz, Bar Mitzvahs were: Jonathan Adinolfi, Michael Halbreich, Daniel Lane, Errol Ponce, Marc Revkin, Donald Simon, Adam Sternberg, Stephen Weitzman.

1Author: Maura Grunlund, Staten Island Advance, August 24, 2012

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