In 1961, the chances of a cognitively disabled young man having a bar mitzvah were slim to none. Daniel Scheinberg, son of Samuel and Helen Scheinberg of College Park, Maryland, was fortunate to have parents who would not take no for an answer and equally fortunate to know Rabbi Morris Gordon.
The Scheinbergs were pioneers in new territory. In those days, special education services or any services for special-needs children was very minimal; Daniel’s father would later create a Boy Scout Explorers Post for many young men like Dan, and he taught them many adaptive skills and provided them with many experiences that would serve them well in life.
Sam Scheinberg convinced Rabbi Gordon of Mishkan Torah in Greenbelt (then known as the Prince George’s County JCC) to allow Daniel to have a bar mitzvah. Sam promised to work with his son on the brachot (blessings) and that he would be on the bimah with his son during his bar mitzvah Torah reading. Rabbi Gordon agreed that disabled individuals should be included in every aspect of Judaism.
So it was that on the Shabbat of John F. Kennedy’s first inauguration, an equally auspicious event occurred: Daniel Scheinberg had his bar mitzvah. While he was only able to chant the brachot with the assistance of his father, that day remains a very important milestone in his life. He still remembers the chants for aliyahs today, but is now assisted by his brother Jerry. It is probably not a coincidence that Jerry Scheinberg is a clinical psychologist and a retired director of special education services, with a career in Indiana and New Jersey that spanned over 42 years.
In 1972, it was a kiddush Hashem that I married into the Scheinberg family and was able to see how much Dan loved his Jewish life and participated in Jewish life within the family. He loves Shabbat and is often heard trying to sing all of the melodies. If anyone phones him on Friday afternoon they will certainly hear his favorite greeting, “Good Shabbos to you!” Daniel has been an integral part of our life with myself and my husband Jerry and our two sons. He has been with us all of these years in every life cycle event and high holiday. In fact, it is notable that Dan is often emotionally moved and affected by prayer and melodies that remind him of Shabbat with his parents. It is also important to mention that Dan’s nieces and nephews have included their uncle in all family events, which is very fulfilling for him.
He resided with his parents until they both passed away. That is when we moved him up to New Jersey to be close to us and for Jerry and me to look after him. Rabbi Yisroel Tsvi Serebrowski and the entire congregation of Torah Links of South Jersey welcomed Daniel with open arms and he became a regular member of the minyan. After eight years of living in his own apartment with daily assistance from Jerry, Jerry and I realized that Dan needed to be part of a community of his own and needed to feel more independent and have a better quality of life. After much research, we found Homecrest House of Silver Spring, Maryland. Homecrest House is owned by the community-based, non-profit National Capital B’nai B’rith Housing Foundation and is located on Homecrest Road. He was able to pass the screening in order to qualify for an apartment and services at the Robert Edwards Building.
At Homecrest House, Daniel is part of a Jewish community. He has kosher meals in the dining room with his friends, attends Friday evening services conducted by volunteers in the social hall, and he participates in all other holiday services and activities there. Homecrest House has remained true to its mission, “dedicated to providing affordable housing and quality services to low income senior citizens and qualified disabled adults.” Dan is so proud of his apartment that he welcomes new prospective residents to tour it.
“The Homecrest Hebrew Congregation is made up of residents who set up the room for services, raise funds for the kiddush, and find volunteers from the community to lead the services on a rotating schedule,” said Doris Torti from the executive administrative office of Joe Podson House. Torti was also proud to mention all the Jewish art displayed throughout the three buildings and the special programs for Passover and Purim that the residents enjoy.
We moved to Bethesda in 2015 after we both retired to be closer to Daniel. Rabbi Yehoshua Singer and the members of Am Hatorah Congregation of Bethesda have welcomed Dan with acceptance and inclusion. Every time he attends he is offered an aliyah, and as it has been for the last 25 years, Jerry goes up to assist him. When Rabbi Yehoshua Singer of Am Hatorah was contacted, he enthusiastically agreed that the personality of the shul is welcoming, and he works to elevate inclusiveness as part of the mission of the shul.
“They have a very elevated soul, able to achieve their purpose in life without engaging in all aspects of the world,” he read aloud from a Jewish text. “In the ways that count they are more like us than unlike us. Same life. Same G-d. Same afterlife.”
Daniel also enjoys going to synagogue with his sister Judith Berg, who resides in Rockville. It is with enormous thanks to Hashem that we have been able to assist and witness this special man’s truly fulfilling Jewish life and watch him connect to Hashem in ways we never guessed could happen.
Deborah Scheinberg is a retired science teacher and astronomy professor. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees of Science from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Born in Washington, D.C., Deborah married Jerry Scheinberg of College Park, Maryland, in 1972. The Scheinbergs raised two sons, Aaron and Joshua, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, before moving to Bethesda, Maryland, in 2015. Both sons are military veterans.