I am a local college student and a member of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, and I am also on the autism spectrum. Over time, I have had many positive experiences regarding inclusion at locations such as Ohev Sholom, where my family and I are members. The clergy, staff and congregants always do their best to help me have important and positive experiences.
For instance, beginning in the fall of 2014, I began doing writing related to parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah reading) for a children’s program that meets weekly at the synagogue during the school year. Children have used my writing to discuss the parsha, and to this day I continue writing for children at the synagogue and currently write for groups meeting on Shabbat as well.
Although I have had many wonderful experiences of being included at Ohev Sholom, the opportunity to write has been one of the most important experiences of being included that I have ever had. I deeply believe that it is very important for everyone to have the chance to make meaningful contributions to society. However, it is particularly important for people who have special needs to know that they are respected and appreciated.
The chance to write has been enormously important in giving me a sense of feeling appreciated and respected, and it has been vital in terms of my self-esteem and has helped me build the soul that I have today. Furthermore, I truly wish that all people who have special needs could have opportunities to feel that they are making a meaningful difference and contribution.
Ohev Sholom presents several opportunities to help encourage inclusion. For example, there are regular dinners with the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes (JFGH), at which congregants and anyone who wishes has the opportunity to meet and interact with people from JFGH as well as JFGH staff. I frequently attend JFGH events at Ohev Sholom, and those dinners will always be among my most vivid memories of young adulthood. The synagogue is setting a wonderful example of being inclusive by hosting these events.
Additionally, another special experience for me has simply been participating in the community. The knowledge that I am fully welcome means so much to me. A community where a person knows, without a doubt, that one is always welcome is very important, and I look forward to continuing my journey.
Nathan Weissler, 24, is a college student in the Washington, D.C. area and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.