For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic and the specific mannerisms adopted in order to stay COVID-free are a thing of the past. Masks are not mandated in most places, social distancing is no longer a concern and the days of Zoom parties are long gone.
But for some people, such as individuals with disabilities or those who may be immunocompromised, these pandemic-era accommodations still offer benefits.
Some Jewish organizations are helping to meet the needs of these demographics by continuing to offer virtual programs. For Passover, Jewish Community Services held a virtual Passover seder for individuals with disabilities in hopes of making the holiday more accessible to those who may have difficulty with mobility or transportation.
The initial virtual seder was held in 2021 because of the pandemic, with enough continued interest to hold them yearly. This year’s event took place on Thursday, March 30.
“The JCC and JCS together would hold holiday parties: one for Purim, one for a Passover seder and one for Chanukah,” explained Jamie Leboe, a manager of employment support services at JCS, who has organized many of the organization’s virtual programs for individuals with disabilities. “During Chanukah of 2020, we tried doing a virtual party for the first time. So we’ve done a virtual Chanukah party, Purim party and Passover seder in the years since.”
Though not virtual, JCS also held an in-person Purim party for individuals with disabilities on March 3. Attendees were able to play Purim games, dress up in costumes and enjoy music.
In addition to accommodating people with mobility issues, JCS’s Passover seder for individuals with disabilities hopes to meet the needs of those with other types of disabilities. They are incorporating an American Sign Language interpreter for attendees who need it, which was made possible through a grant from the Macks Center for Jewish Connections’ Access-Interpreter Fund. The fund helps to support the deaf community through the Jewish Advocates for Deaf Education program, offsetting the cost of interpreters and captioning services for Jewish events.
“Any organization that’s hosting a community seder should definitely offer an interpreter or any other accommodation to make the event fully accessible,” said Rachel Turniansky, the director of disability and inclusion services at the Macks Center. “A simple question on a registration form can help let every participant know that they are welcome and that you want to work with them to find out how to include them.”
“[Virtual events] are more accessible by the community, because they are open to everybody,” said Leboe. “We still offer in-person events, but we are offering the virtual seder because there is still interest in having access to hybrid events.”
Events like these are organized through JCS’s Disabilities Support Services department, which offers social opportunities as well as help with assisted living, career support and aid for parents raising children with disabilities. In addition, they have support groups for individuals and families of individuals with Parkinson’s disease, dementia and low vision.
“We are 100% committed to offering programs to individuals who have diagnosed disabilities,” Leboe added, also citing the many programs they offered during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month in February. “We make it a point to support them throughout the year.”