OPINION: An inclusive prayer book ensures everyone has full access to shul life

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OPINION: An inclusive prayer book ensures everyone has full access to shul life

Siddur Lakol is a choice to bring inclusivity beyond our schools and into synagogues, writes Deborah Gundle

Jess who Kisharon supports looks forward to using the new Siddur Lakol on Friday night Photo credit Robert Shack
Jess who Kisharon supports looks forward to using the new Siddur Lakol on Friday night Photo credit Robert Shack

There’s a lot to celebrate about Jewish communities in the UK.  In particular, the growing support of people with learning disabilities and special needs.

In northwest London, Kisharon-Langdon cater to pupils of diverse abilities. Their facilities include outdoor learning, an eco-hub, art classes, and practical workshops for the Jewish festivals and more, which facilitate a holistic educational experience.

Side by Side, a school in north London has opened a new state-of-the-art building featuring IT labs, a teaching kitchen, and music and sensory spaces.

These buildings are unique spaces that allow those with learning difficulties to learn and thrive.

Yet, facilities, as vital and modern as they may be, are not the whole picture. People with learning difficulties and autism do not just need suitable schools. We need to make sure everyone has full access to shul life, and we must make more effort to bring more inclusivity into the Jewish public sphere.

Siddur Lakol is a significant step towards that aim. The Siddur is an inclusive prayer book that aims to expand the educational and Jewish experiences beyond school, into shuls and into the daily and weekly lives of its users.

New Siddur Lakol being used by Kisharon Noe pupil Salome and her Support Worker Necola Picture Credit Robert Shack

The Siddur enables everyone to develop their own relationship with prayer, access to shul services and be connected to Jewish and communal life.

The Jewish sages of the Mishnaic period said that prayer can be recited in any language, and the Hasidic masters of eighteenth-century Eastern Europe deeply encouraged each person to engage with prayer in their own way. As such, Siddur Lakol, allowing all to follow the services and pray, adheres to this tradition.

Siddur Lakol ensures that every soul, regardless of cognitive or verbal abilities, finds resonance in the sacred liturgy. The initiative may be the first for all faith groups within the UK, serving as the catalyst for a conversation on the issues of greater inclusivity within religious life, not just within Jewish communities but far beyond it as well.

New Siddur Lakol being used by Kisharon Photo credit Robert Shack

Each person brings unique talents and gifts, contributing to various aspects of community life, from making up a minyan to participating in communal events.

Making Siddur Lakol available signals that a shul is truly open to everyone. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis praised the Siddur as an “outstanding publication”, expressing the hope that “it will not only serve as a way of making religious services more inclusive but that it will also prompt a community-wide conversation about what more we can do to ensure that every aspect of Jewish life is truly accessible to all”.

Siddur Lakol is the first orthodox prayer book to use the Picture Exchange Communication System specifically for people with disabilities credit Robert Shack

Siddur Lakol was produced by Jweb (learn more at www.jweb.org.uk) in partnership with The United Synagogue, and in collaboration with Kisharon Langdon and Gesher School.

Launched in June 2022, during Learning Disability Week, Siddur Lakol is the first Siddur for Orthodox Jewish communities to use pictures as communication symbols in a prayer book.

The pictorial symbols have been designed to help those with cognitive disabilities, autism spectrum conditions, and those who are non-verbal, to understand the world around them and to convey their thoughts and to read and write. The Siddur also features clear print, simplified translations, accessible transliteration of core prayers with simplified explanations of prayers.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, is accredited as saying “diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice”. Siddur Lakol allows the entire Jewish community to actively embrace that reality, and to continue the conversation of the need for faith groups catering to all far beyond our communal confines.

Our pioneering Siddur is set to open doors and opportunities for more inclusion in Jewish communal life, highlighting the social benefits for all to make inclusivity the default in our communities.

  • Deborah Gundle is co-founder of JWeb, a cross-communal independent digital hub for learning disabilities in the Jewish community
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