Saul’s Story

Saul’s Bar Mitzvah – By Saul’s mother, Susan

Saul is 18 and loves music.  Saul has a rare condition which means he has multiple needs, including learning disabilities, difficulties communicating and health problems.  Watch Saul’s story below:

Here is Saul’s mother’s experience of planning a Bar Mitzvah for Saul:

Saul was 10, when youngest of our 3 girls had her Bat Mitzvah and I turned my attention to Saul’s Bar Mitzvah.  I had researched Jewish inclusivity on the internet and wanted time to develop something which would work for Saul.  But the Rabbi came back and said “I cannot help you”.  The shock, the loneliness and the burden I felt at that time were utterly overwhelming.  It was devastating. 

Undeterred, I continued exploring options for Saul.  Most Hebrew teachers were a completely unsuitable – they made no connection with Saul.  Then I heard about an Israeli-based programme for Bar and Bat Mitzvot for children with special needs.  It was a phenomenal principle.

Avromi was a Chazan who was also training to be a Speech and Language Therapist.  He had no experience of learning disabilities but knew about speech development and, much more importantly, he had his heart in it, he was willing, and he wanted to make it happen.  He shared Saul’s love of music.  He came to meet Saul and straight away I knew it would be right – Saul’s face lit up!

Avromi worked with Saul on articulation, on breathing.  I made cards with single phonetic words in very large font and pictures on them, to help Saul understand the abstract concepts in the prayers.  I laminated them with non-reflective plastic and used coloured backing to help Saul differentiate.  Every little detail about how it was presented made a difference to Saul.  Slowly, with much perserverence and hard work, Saul learnt the 2 Brachot (prayers) for being called up.  And with his new found voice and skills, Saul then learnt the leyning for Rosh Chodesh (the New Month) too!

The Bar Mitzvah was in Avromi’s shul on a Sunday, opening opportunities for using electronic equipment including a microphone for Saul’s very little voice.  The whole event was very musical which reflects Saul.

Since Saul’s Bar Mitzvah, our Shul has a new Rabbi.  He has been very supportive and other community members have also ensured that Saul stays actively involved, in the Youth Service, the Shul Klezmer Band and now the main Choir.

For Saul’s 18th brithday, we finally wanted to have a ‘bar mitzvah’ in our Shul.  The new Rabbi was very supportive, wanting to get to know us and Saul.  However, he was also honest, saying he had not done this before and wanted to learn and make it work.  Saul sang Maftir (the final portion) and the Brachot and it was another emotional and powerful event.  This Rosh Hashana Saul will be singing in the Shul Choir again, including singing a solo.  He has come such a long way, but he still has lots to learn, as we all do.