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April 02, 1993 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-04-02

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"If You Don't
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DISABLED page 10

There has even been some
discussion about installing
an electric sliding door.
Unfortunately, the
changes required to make a
temple or synagogue barri-
er-free can be quite costly,
and many synagogues and
temples are restrained by
economics. There is not
enough space for a ramp to
be built at the bimah at
Temple Emanu-El — it
would cut into the bimah
— and a lift is very expen-
sive, but Temple Emanu-El
even so, is a worthy exam-
ple of the changes a syna-
gogue or temple can and
should make to welcome
those members with dis-
abilities, the least of which
are handicapped parking
and restrooms. Large-print
prayerbooks are available,
as is a sound-enhancement
system. Working much like
a radio broadcasting sys-
tem, small radios, when
tuned to a certain AM fre-
quency, allow the hearing
impaired to follow the ser-
vices and listen to the ser-
mons. On the High
Holidays, and on one
Shabbat a month, a sign
language interpreter is
present during services. A
remaining barrier to
Temple Emanu-El's acces-
sibility is its front doors,
which are decorated with
heavy metal sculptures
that cannot be easily
opened by someone sitting
in a wheelchair.
Rabbi Lane Steinger of
Temple Emanu-El has a
few suggestions which
would allow full participa-
tion from the disabled
members of any congrega-
tion. A recent bar mitzvah
boy's father does not walk,
so the Torah was read not
on the bimah, but on the
floor. Rabbi Steinger
believes that portable
Torah tables would allow
for this kind of participa-
tion more frequently, as
would modular seating
instead of pews. He knows,
however, that there is no
foolproof system, and that
there are "real issues" that
do not allow for the exten-
sive changes required to be
accommodating, Yet he
believes that all religious
institutions must "try to be
sensitive and responsible,"
and must be open to all.

Rabbi David Nelson, too,
is strongly guided by that
principle. Beth Shalom is
studying to redo part of the
bimah to make it accessible
to the disabled members of
the congregation. "It is the
correct thing to do," says
Rabbi Nelson. Disabled
worshippers are "as signifi-

cant as any other able-bod-
ied member" of a congrega-
tion. Rabbi Nelson often
steps down from the pulpit
and goes into the congrega-
tion to congragulate people
who cannot come up to the
bimah, and he says that
some of the most moving
services include those
when people with disabili-
ties are able to approach
the bimah and participate.
As of yet, there are no
handicapped restrooms in
Beth Shalom, so wheel-
chair users use the Rabbi's
study. The library contains
Braille prayerbooks and
parts of the Torah, and
Rabbi Nelson is confident
that the other modifica-
tions needed to make Beth
Shalom completely barrier-
free will be effected.
Although no synagogue
nor temple is perfect, reli-
gious leaders and congre-

Unfortunately, the
changes required
to make a temple
or synagogue
barrier-free can be
quite costly,

gations, with 'the aid of
such publications at "That
All May Worship," are
becoming increasingly
aware of the modifications
they need to make in their
buildings, so that anyone
who wishes to enter may do
so comfortably. The
changes may be long in
coming because of economic
restraints, but finding
ways to accommodate those
with sensory, physical, or
any other disabilities must
be a top priority. It should
not be easier for a wheel-
chair user to go into a bar
or buy a pizza than it is to
get into his or her syna-
gogue. As Rabbi Nelson
says, no matter what the
packaging is like, "every
soul is complete." ❑

Sign Language
Classes Set

The Deaf, Hearing and

Speech Center is offering sign
language classes at the
Maple-Drake Jewish Com-
munity Center 4:30-5:45 p.m.
starting April 20 for 10
To register, call JCC,

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