When a family has a member with a learning disability or mental ill-health, it can make inclusion difficult for the whole family. They may feel uncomfortable coming to shul, find it hard to get out in the evening for classes at the shul, or feel that they are not welcome at communal events. Friends may feel unsure how to respond and may withdraw out of fear, naivety or just not knowing how to behave. Where people receive paid support, the worker may not be Jewish, and feel unable or uncomfortable to support the person’s Jewish identity.
As well as the benefits to the individual, families enjoy the chance to be part of something, together; an opportunity which may be rare when a family member has a learning disability or mental health problem.
If you would like to get involved with a synagogue please contact us or visit our What’s On Guide
Information for Support Workers and Care Staff
If you are supporting someone to go to synagogue (also called ‘shul’), or be involved in Jewish community life, below are links to some basic information which might be useful. For information specific to your synagogue, you can contact the Synagogue office or the Rabbi (leader of the community). Some synagogues also have welfare groups who may be able to help. In synagogues who have participated in the Judith Trust Inclusion Campaign, there will be trained volunteers who can offer support. Please contact us if you would like us to work with your synagogue, or if you have any other questions.
There are different streams of Judaism, each with different religious practices and observances. Below we briefly outline their practices in relation to Shabbat, as this Campaign is involved with attending synagogue. There are links to each movement’s website for further information. Even within a stream, practices may vary, so it is helpful to speak to someone at the synagogue before going if you have any questions. If you would like to be put in touch with someone, please contact us.
Ultra-orthodox Jews observe Jewish laws in a very strict fashion and live as a closed community. ‘Chabad Lubavitch’ and ‘Charedi’ are examples of ultra-orthodox groups.
Orthodox, or Modern Orthodox, Jews observe Jewish law in a strict fashion, but generally live and work within mainstream British society. Orthodox Jews do not use electricity or money on Shabbat. Men and women play different roles in synagogue services, and sit seperately. The United Synagogue, and The Federation of Synagogues are both Orthodox synagogue organisations.
Masorti Judaism is traditional. Members will not use electricity or money on Shabbat. Each Masorti synagogue has a different perspective on the role of men and women; some are egalitarian, whilst others have separate seating and roles.
Reform Jews make their own decisions about how to observe Shabbat, so practices vary greatly and there is an acceptance of diversity of practice.
Liberal Jews make their own decisions about how to observe Shabbat, so practices vary greatly and there is an acceptance of diversity of practice.
There are 2 streams of ethnic origins of Jewish families in the UK. Each has a different culture, and their food, music and some religious practices vary. Most UK Jews are Ashkenazi. Jews of any ethnic background can join any synagogue, but there are some synagogues which are Sephardi, whose services are different from the Ashkenazi services held in most synagogues.
Sephardi Jews originate from Spain, Portugal, France, North Africa and Middle-Eastern countries such as Yemen and Iraq.
Ashkenazi Jews originate from Eastern, Northern and Central Europe
Going to synagogue services
Shabbat and festivals – The Jewish Sabbath is from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday; the times of Shabbat and services therefore vary all year and are available online, or from your local synagogue. Shabbat is a ‘day of rest’, and abstention from work, although people interpret this differently. Many people go to synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning, where there are prayer services and usually a kiddush (food and drink after the service); contact the synagogue for times of services. Some synagogues also have discussion groups for adults and services or activities for children. Many people spend Shabbat with their family.
There are many Jewish festivals throughout the year. Like Shabbat, these start at sunset the evening before the first date. Most festivals are days when people do not work and go to synagogue, like Shabbat. There are traditions and foods associated with each festival.
Dress code for synagogue services – most people dress smartly for synagogue services. Men and boys wear a kippah (skull cap) and most wear a tallis (prayer shawl), although this is not compulsory. Some Masorti, Reform and Liberal women and girls also wear a kippah and tallis.
In Orthodox synagogues, women do not wear trousers and dress in a modest way (covering their shoulders and knees) and married women cover their heads (with a scarf, hat or wig).
Travelling to synagogue on festivals and Shabbat – Orthodox people may not use electricity on Shabbat and would not, therefore, travel in a car or bus or Shabbat. If someone uses a wheelchair, this can be self-propelled, or it is preferable for a non-Jewish person to push it. There are some festivals on which you can use electricity and drive, these include, Purim, Chanukah and the ‘middle days’ of Sukkot and Pesach.
Reform and Liberal synagogues do not follow this restriction; some synagogues may therefore be able to offer disabled parking spaces for Shabbat if you let them know you are coming.
Seating in synagogue – In Reform, Liberal and some Masorti synagogues, men and women sit together. In Orthodox synagogues, and some Masorti synagogues, men and women sit separately during services; this applies to girls over 12 and boys over 13. This is important to consider when deciding who will support a person to go to the service. In some Orthodox synagogues, the women sit upstairs, although there is usually some downstairs space for wheelchair users; speak to the synagogue in advance about this.
Some synagogues have allocated seats for members and there will be an area of unallocated seating; speak to the synagogue if you have questions about this.
Mobile phones – Orthodox people do not use electricity on Shabbat and therefore no phones are allowed. Reform and Liberal people may use phones but out of respect for the service, these should not be used during services and should be turned off. Similarly, electronic devices such as iPods should not be taken to synagogue services.
Services – the service is different in each synagogue. In general, Reform and Liberal services use more English and Orthodox and Masorti services are mainly in Hebrew.
Women and men lead services together in Liberal, Reform and some Masorti synagogues. In Orthodox, and some Masorti, synagogues only men lead the service. Most synagogues offer children’s services or activities on Shabbat mornings.
Cultural and Communal activities and Youth Groups
Most synagogues have groups and activities throughout the week, for different age groups and interests. These might range from Zumba or yoga, to Hebrew reading or lectures on Israel. Some are regular and others are one-off events. Usually these will be on the website, or you can call the synagogue. Members of the synagogue will receive this information in regular mailings and e-newsletters; most synagogues will provide reduced-rate membership to people with a need for this.
Most synagogues have educational and social opportunities for children and young people. There are also many Jewish Youth Groups providing social, educational and developmental opportunities for Jewish children and young people. Please contact us if you would like to find out more.
There are also other organisations offering Jewish activities – we work with Limmud and The JCC, but can also put you in touch with others.