Woman Helps Autistic Children Celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvahs
For years, Jewish autistic children have been shut out of important religious rituals like bar and bat mitzvahs. But now, a woman named Elaine Hall has formed a group to give them the celebrations they deserve.
For many Jewish boys and girls, a bar or bat mitzvah is a traditional rite of passage that symbolizes their journey towards adulthood as they reach the age of 13. For most kids, it also serves as an opportunity to show off all their hard work in Hebrew school, to dance, to eat, and to score plenty of expensive gifts from doting aunts, uncles, and aging grannies.
But for children with autism, such complex rituals are often beyond their grasp. As they reach the threshold of adolescence, they cannot participate in the Jewish community’s symbolic coming-of-age festivity, and are left behind with no acknowledgement from the religious community.
Now, thanks to a Los Angeles woman named Elaine Hall, autistic children are finally getting their chance to stand proudly before their friends and family members in a synagogue, for their very own bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Hall has an autistic son of her own named Neil, and has spent years using her background in drama to help bring Neil and other autistic children out of their shells, by directing them in theatre performances.
Elias Lefferman, an executive at a local nonprofit agency, knew of Hall’s work, and was concerned about the autistic children within the Jewish community. He asked her if she’d use her skills to develop a program to train autistic children for religious ceremonies, and she jumped at the chance. Coincidentally, her son Neil was approaching bar mitzvah age – and, along with four other boys, was one of the first to perform the ceremony.
Because many autistic children have limited vocabularies or are completely nonverbal, the ceremonies are a bit unorthodox. For Neil’s bar mitzvah, he wrote a speech, which his stepfather recited for him on stage. Prayers and songs had been programmed into an electronic device, which Neil played for his audience with the touch of a button.
Since the ceremony, Hall has noticed a striking change in her son’s behavior. “All the big decisions about what to do were Neal’s that day,” she told The Los Angeles Times. “He’s been this little mensch ever since.”
Other autistic children who’ve participated in the program are equally thrilled by the chance to take part in the important religious ceremony. One non-verbal boy, Dov Shestack, wrote a note to The Los Angeles Times: “Bar Mitzvah is the most important part of my life. . . . Tell people that people like me love to learn because we are a lot more like you than you think.”Filed under: Arts and Culture, Heroes, Non-Profits,
Liked this? You'll love these, too:
Craftsman Amnon Weinstein Makes Holocaust Violins Sing Again
Artisan Amnon Weinstein has located and restored violins that belonged to Holocaust victims, then brought them to be played in orchestras all over the world. Read More
Holocaust Refugees Reunited by Chicago Eighth-Graders
Gerda “Gertie” Katz Frumkin and Edith Schumer Westerfield became close friends at age 12, while escaping Nazi Germany together. Now, they've been reunited by a group of eighth-graders. Read More
A Few Amazing Brains: Geniuses with Savant Syndrome
Ever wish you could count cards like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man? Well, he's got nothing on these remarkable real-life savants. Read More
Autistic Child Kent Melville Creates Soda Business
Kent Melville, an autistic nine-year-old from St. Johnsbury, England, created Kent's Sodas, which helps support programs for other autistic children. Read More
How Therapy Dogs Can Help Children with Autism
Service dogs can help children and adults with autism learn to better cope with their environment. Read More
To our free daily newsletter, featuring good news from around the world, exclusive interviews with changemakers, guest columns, and subscriber-only weekly giveaways and special offers. Your privacy is secure with us, we will never spam you or sell your email address. Enter your email address below or click here to learn more about what you will receive.
- Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who Saved the World by Doing Nothing
- Miracle Fruit Makes (Almost) Everything Delicious
- Hachiko: The World’s Most Loyal Dog
- Liam Hoekstra, Superbaby: Toddler Born with Superhuman Strength
- Mugging Attempt Gets Thwarted by Real-Life Ninjas