Limmud meets special needs for learning

By Jessica Elgot, January 19, 2012
Norwood and Langdon service users at Limmud L'Am, the one-day taster of Limmud conference

Norwood and Langdon service users at Limmud L'Am, the one-day taster of Limmud conference

Volunteers who helped adults with learning disabilities to lead and participate in Limmud conference activities say the initiative is an important example of giving those with special needs greater involvement in community events.

Limmud 2011 co-chair and Norwood Jewish cultural manager Shoshana Bloom organised a day-long Limmud experience for 15 adults with learning disabilities, most from Norwood and Langdon.

"We wanted to show they have as much to contribute and teach as anyone else," she said. "It's a wider project. We want to make sure adults with learning disabilities can volunteer, do public speeches and teach in community events. They can do mitzvahs on Mitzvah Day as well as be recipients.

"We are organising a Birthright trip in March for people with learning disabilities. They should to be able to do everything that we expect to do as Jewish adults. And that's what Limmud's about too - everyone's a student, everyone's a teacher."

One Norwood service user, Rachelle Adler, had told her Limmud had been "one of the best days of my life".

Limmud L'Am volunteer Abigail Jacobi said preparation was key to ensuring the Norwood and Langdon adults were able to fully contribute. "We felt Limmud is such an enjoyable, infectious atmosphere that we wanted everyone to enjoy it equally. We wanted them to be involved in as much of normal conference as possible. Some went to sessions we had chosen, with the best, most interesting lecturers. Some chose for themselves, with volunteers and support workers with them. It was amazing. They were all really engaged.

"We did kosher sushi-making, storytelling, took part in kosher gospel and some participants lit the Chanukiah in the evening."

We wanted the service users to be as involved as everyone

As part of the Judith Trust's Inclusion Campaign, two of the Norwood participants, Ms Adler and Naomi Mushin, both from Hendon, helped lead a session on how to better integrate people with disabilities into Jewish cultural life. Others fronted a session on jewellery making. Some are now planning to apply as full-time volunteers for Limmud 2012. The Judith Trust's campaign project officer, Sharon Daniels, feels that although "most Jewish organisations are welcoming to people with learning disabilities, they just don't know how to do outreach and approach them. The service users themselves won't necessarily take the initiative and many support workers are not Jewish."

Ms Daniels said the trust was planning an online resource for carers to help get their service users involved in Jewish activities. It also plans to work more closely with youth movements, synagogues and the Jewish Community Centre. "We are trying to make sure inclusion is on people's agenda," she said.

Last updated: 11:39am, January 19 2012