by Leah Sugarman – Originally published in the bulletin of Temple Emunah in Lexington
Community and the feeling of fitting in is important: that sense of belonging, knowing others understand you, and that certainty you are in the right place.
Religion and Temple Emunah are an important part of our lives and that need -shared experiences and connections, Jewish jokes and delicious food, life events and prayers, all the big things.
I was raised going to Hebrew Day School and services every week. I found a nice spouse and had children and joined a temple. We went to Tot Shabbat and started our oldest child in Hebrew School. And then life hit a speed bump – one of our children was diagnosed with special needs – and suddenly, we do not fit in. Somewhere between Tot Shabbat and Junior Congregation we fell off the path. Our younger son could not continue along easily with peers and activities in his Jewish journey without extra support, but he needs this community more than anyone.Last spring, Camp Ramah New England held a Tikvah Family Shabbaton, a weekend for families with special needs, and we found the community we needed. It was the one place that all five of us, our whole family, fit in. And that is inclusion. The world of raising a child with special needs is complicated, but at these weekends it is not complicated. We are the “normal”. And I cannot express how important it is to fit in, as an entire family, with all our needs, and our religion.
This fall, we went to the second Shabbaton. After prayers and Shabbat dinner, it was time to sing songs. It started with “Hine Ma Tov.” Our daughter turned excitedly to our son and said, “It’s your favorite song!” We all sang it together. And we too fit in. Perfectly.