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Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel Awarded Grant to Complete Ongoing Efforts to Become Barrier-Free

Community Synagogues

Updated on Jun 3, 2013

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J., May 31, 2013 - Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel (TSTI) of South Orange will soon be completely barrier-free, thanks to a $2,500 grant from MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging, Life Enrichment). The award will fund construction of the final wheelchair ramp needed to make all areas of the synagogue accessible to those with mobility limitations. The ramp will provide direct access to an elevator from the Iris Family Center for Childhood Education, the temple's preschool. It will enable wheelchair users to participate more easily in the religious school classrooms, play space and sanctuary on the second floor.

"We have always found a way for children with different cognitive or emotional needs to be included in our religious school and preschool programs," said Associate Rabbi Ellie Miller. "Now we can advance our commitment to inclusion by lowering the barriers even further." Miller said many parents in the area enroll their special-needs children in the temple's preschool and religious school because of the accommodations and attention the staff provides. TSTI's Linda & Rudy Slucker Religious School was one of the first in the area to provide one-on-one support for students with special needs.

Thirteen congregations within MetroWest applied for the grants; eight received awards. The grants are to be used for building enhancements, programs, and/or enhanced services that provide greater accessibility to the synagogue community for people with special needs and their families.

A Longstanding Reputation for Inclusivity

About eight years ago, TSTI reconfigured its sanctuary to make the Bema barrier-free after a child in a wheelchair was unable to fully participate in a service. The building also has wheelchair accessibility from the rear parking lot, a barrier-free front entrance, and an elevator. The hearing-impaired are offered hearing enhancement earphones in the Bass Family Sanctuary and the Gellis-Green Chapel.

Miller said the TSTI congregation strongly supports efforts to break down barriers and strives to be inclusive and welcoming. The grant committee had originally considered applying for a different ABLE grant to pay for advanced special education training for faculty, but a generous congregant offered to cover that expense himself if TSTI applied for and received the accessibility grant.

"Inclusion is very much at the core of who we are as a congregation, and we've been a leader on this issue for a long time," noted Miller. "We want everyone to be comfortable in our building and in our community, and this grant goes a long way to fulfilling our mission."

TSTI has developed strong partnerships with the early intervention professionals in the South Orange school district because of its desire to accommodate children with learning disabilities. A certified special education coordinator is on staff at the religious school, which enrolls about 450 students. There are approximately 150 students in the preschool, which is a community program open to both Jewish and non-Jewish children. A social worker from Jewish Family Services is available to the faculty of both schools to advise on special-need situations.

Based in South Orange, New Jersey, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a Reform congregation that welcomes all who wish to participate in and celebrate Jewish traditions and rituals. The temple draws members from many towns including South Orange, Maplewood, Short Hills, Millburn, Livingston and West Orange. It is recognized throughout the region for its innovative programs, worship services, community events, and groups dedicated to a wide array of religious, social and educational interests. For more information, visit http://www.tsti.org/ or call (973) 763-4116.

Rabbi Miller joined TSTI in 1999 as the Assistant Rabbi and became the Associate Rabbi in 2001.
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