(photo credit: COURTESY YAD SARAH)
Although Jewish worshipers pray on the High Holy Days, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength faileth, forsake me not,” many synagogues ignore the accessibility needs of the elderly and disabled year round.
The nationwide voluntary organization Yad Sarah has decided to hold an information campaign for the first time so that the wheelchair- bound and hearing and vision disabled will also be able to participate in synagogue services. Many people are prevented from participating, said David Rothner, Yad Sarah’s information director, who became more aware of the problem when he broke his ankle and went to his Beit Shemesh synagogue in a wheelchair.
He asked Shani Rosenfeld, director of the organization’s display and advice center in Jerusalem, to increase synagogue officials’ awareness of the problem by presenting equipment such as ramps in Yad Sarah’s branches around the country.
It has also placed advice on the organization’s website (www.yadsarah.org.il
) in Hebrew and English.
If the door of the synagogue is higher or lower than the sidewalk, a ramp of concrete, metal or wood is needed. It should be six to 10 times higher than the height of the steps, Rothner said, and should be clearly visible. If there are only a few steps, one can use a mobile ramp, he added. The voluntary organization has a small number of such ramps for lending but it encourages synagogues to purchase ramps from carpenters or other workmen as a permanent solution. Yad Sarah offers advice about this.
In addition, a strong and stable railing or banister with lighting should be installed alongside the ramp so that using it will be safe at night. The platform and area near the holy ark also needs a ramp so that people in wheelchairs can use them. Doors and passages must be at least 60 centimeters wide in order to allow wheelchairs to pass. Doorknobs should be installed in the lower third of the door.
Rothner added that some benches for worshipers should be left without seats so that the wheelchair- bound can use them.
If there is an inaccessible women’s section on an upper floor, he said, some place should be set aside on the bottom floor for women who cannot reach it.
Acoustics and lighting are also important. “If the synagogue is very large or if acoustics are poor, one should consider moving the cantor or prayer leader to a platform in the center of the synagogue rather than in the front. Some large-print and Braille prayer books and Bibles (available from the Mesila organization in Bnei Brak and elsewhere) should be provided for the vision impaired.
“There used to be a halachic ruling that the blind cannot be called up to the Torah, but it has been changed to allow it,” Rothner said. “Synagogues must be more aware and considerate of what the disabled need.”
Restrooms should also be suited for those in wheelchairs.
Elderly synagogue attendees can borrow wheelchairs and walkers from Yad Sarah’s more than 100 chapters to reach the synagogue and return home more easily.
More information can be obtained by calling *6444.