On May 7th we held our third annual Shabbat Itanu.  The service was warm and welcoming thanks to Rabbi Miriam, Cantor Lisa, and our wonderful accompanist Alan Gotlib.

Our guests for the event were John and Mel from L’Arche Toronto.  John and Mel have enjoyed a special friendship for more than 20 years, starting when John moved into the l’Arche community that Mel lived in.  Together they described this friendship and the amazing travels they have taken together.  They let us in on stories about their families, and how they supported each other through family illness.  They also spoke about how hard it has been for Mel to find a synagogue where he felt he belonged, and told us some things we as a community can do to make people with intellectual disabilities feel welcome and valued.  It was funny, touching, and inspiring all at once.

Rabbi Miriam spoke about disability and community, including some interesting perspectives from Torah.  Who knew there was a blessing for when you meet someone with a disability?

The Aliyot Kavanot and blessings offered by the Rabbi gave each of us an opportunity to think about our relationship to ability/disability and inclusion, and how each of us can bring our gifts to the community.  Many people came to the front to say they wanted to commit to making their various communities more accessible and inclusive!

Most people stayed for Kiddush after and continued the conversation.  We all came away with renewed commitment to make our congregation accessible and welcoming to all, regardless of limitations.

L’Arche is an International Federation dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs, and support networks with people who have intellectual disabilities.  It was formed in 1964 when Jean Vanier, son of Canadian Governor General Georges Vanier and Pauline Vanier, welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in France.  Today it is an international organization operating 147 communities in 35 countries.  L’Arche seeks to operate from a community model rather than a medical or social services model, and strives to make known the capacities of people with disabilities to enrich relationships and build communities where the values of compassion, inclusion, and diversity are upheld and lived by every person.

John is an Outreach Officer with l’Arche Toronto, and has been with L’Arche since 2003.  He is a graduate of the seminary at the University of Notre Dame.

Mel has lived with L’Arche Toronto for many years, having spent a long time being their only Jewish resident.  He works at the Daily Bread Food Bank, and has earned the award of Volunteer of the Year.


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