Chief Rabbi launches siddur for people with learning disabilities

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Chief Rabbi launches siddur for people with learning disabilities

The prayerbook, a tailor-made United Synagogue edition, has been created by JWeb, in partnership with Gesher School and Kisharon, and with the endorsement of Norwood and Langdon. 

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

A crowd of excited primary school students have become the first to receive a unique prayer book, the Siddur Lakol, or “Siddur for Everyone”, designed to be used by people with learning disabilities.

The siddur, a tailor-made United Synagogue edition, has been created by JWeb, in partnership with Gesher School and Kisharon, and with the endorsement of Norwood and Langdon.

The “soft launch” of the siddur, which uses the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), took place at Gesher on the eve of Learning Disability Week, which runs nationally from 20 to 26 June.

Special guest Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis gave a signed siddur to each of the school’s enthusiastic pupils, who greeted him with the adulation normally reserved for rock stars.

Speaking to Jewish News, he said: “The name of the siddur tells us everything. It’s a siddur for everyone, so every Jewish person can feel a connection to Judaism, and know this is their very own prayer book. I can remember my own siddur I had as a child, and knowing it was mine.”

People Kisharon supports, Raphael, Eli and Bezzy all enjoying using the new Siddur Lakol  Photo: Robert Shack

PECS is a set of graphic icons to help those with autism spectrum conditions convey their thoughts and needs. All prayers and songs appear with matching PECS. The Gesher children are already familiar with the system, as they delivered rousing versions of Modeh Ani and Adon Olam before receiving their personal signed siddur.

Mirvis said: “Our tradition teaches that the Jewish people are just like a sefer Torah – a complete and perfect whole. If one single letter is missing, then the entire scroll is not able to be used. Similarly with the Jewish people, every single person counts.”

The siddur will be produced in both A4 and A5 formats, providing options to support people with a wide range of disabilities and will go on sale in September.

Siddur Lakol has been made possible by the support of the Daniels family from Pinner Synagogue, to honour Sonya Daniels, their wife, mother and grandmother. She was passionate about both Judaism and education, including working with children with diverse educational needs in school.

JWeb co-founder Deborah Gundle, who is also the mother of a special needs child, said: “Our siddur will enable people with learning disabilities to participate in, and enjoy, prayers at home and online as well as in our synagogues.”

Sarah Sultman, co-founder of Gesher School, said: “Gesher was set up for a cohort of children, who, until [it] opened, were largely invisible in our community. Siddur Lakol helps gives them, and all children, regardless of their learning difference, access to their faith through prayer.”

Jacqui Zinkin, United Synagogue Trustee, said: “This new siddur is the first of its kind for the United Synagogue and takes its place amongst the suite of US publications. With specialised content – descriptions, transliterations, explanations and symbols, it has been made possible by the unprecedented collaboration of the United Synagogue with JWeb, Gesher and Kisharon alongside the support of Langdon and Norwood, to ensure we reach as wide a Jewish audience as possible.

“This more accessible siddur enables more people, specifically those with disabilities or special needs, their families and friends, to engage more fully in more religious services, rituals and communal activities. It also serves as a way to educate the wider community, to learn about those with individual differences, thereby promoting respect, understanding and inclusion amongst our members and congregants.”

Hadassa Kessler, Kisharon’s director of operations and development, said: “Siddur Lakol is a siddur for everyone and it will open the doors to Orthodox Jewish communal life for those who may have felt excluded.”

Eli Cohen, a tenant at Kisharon Supported Living, said: “Siddur Lakol is good for people who don’t understand so well or can’t read, because you have pictures and you can understand with the pictures. My friend can’t read but he can use it to say Shema before he goes to sleep, if he wants to.”

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