February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, but not for Temple Sinai’s standing committee on inclusion.
For Jan Epstein and Sari Earl, who lead the Hineini (“Here I Am”) Committee, it’s Jewish Abilities Awareness Month.
“We want to be more proactive,” Epstein said.
The Reform synagogue’s efforts to be truly accessible and not merely meet government codes earned Temple Sinai recognition at the 2015 Union for Reform Judaism biennial and have continued to spark initiatives.
For example, Earl and Epstein said, Rabbi Ron Segal will confine himself to a wheelchair to experience Sinai’s accessibility and discover what doesn’t work. And a service in the dark led by Rabbi Brad Levenberg proved popular and effective at demonstrating the challenges for the visually impaired.
Donors have paid for a valet parking program called Special Parking Assistance at Friday services. SPA is more than a convenience for some of the congregants faced with walking up a steep hill from the parking lot to the building.
That service might be particularly popular Friday, Feb. 17, when Full Radius Dance, a company combining dancers with and without disabilities, will return for a performance during 6:30 p.m. services.
Two accessibility concierges, Ina Enoch and Jan Jay, connect people who have special needs to resources within the congregation and across the community and serve as a bridge to bring issues to the Hineini Committee, which meets as needed.
One of the most striking examples of Sinai’s welcoming emerged from the committee’s discussions: a Braille map of the main floor of the synagogue, including the sanctuary, just inside the building entrance. Epstein said it might be the only map of its kind in a synagogue.
The idea came from Stuart Levenson, who is visually impaired and joined the accessibility committee five years ago. He said he had his doubts that the group would listen to him and do anything meaningful, but he’s still there (along with Marilyn Arkin, Stephen Berman, Robert Freeman, Stacey Geer, Stephanie Scalise, Maurice Shemper, Honey Workman and Ellyse Zindler).
The map project began with an announcement from the bimah last February, and when the money was donated, the hard work began.
Georgia Tech’s Accessibility Solutions & Research Center designed the tactile map, and a Braille program at a Texas prison manufactured it. A congregant built a wood base to give it a fixed location at wheelchair height.
Now the Braille map is a permanent sign of Sinai’s commitment to inclusion.