Monday, February 28, 2011

Gateways Shabbat: Lauren Stanzler '14

This semester several students from Tufts are volunteering with a program called Gateways as the start of a new partnership with Hillel. Gateways is an organization based in Boston that provides access to Jewish education for children and young adults with special needs. With this organization, we are hosting several students with special needs to our Shabbat services at Hillel. The participants, mostly from the Boston area, are around college-aged and they are extremely enthusiastic to be part of this program.

I got involved with Gateways because I thought it would make my Shabbat experience very special. I think everyone deserves a chance to celebrate Shabbat with their community. I wanted to grant this opportunity to members of my faith who may not always have access to a Shabbat service. I also hope to form friendships with the young adults with special needs. Although I don’t have much experience working with people with special needs, I thought it would be rewarding to interact with them, especially on Shabbat.

Before the first Shabbat service with Gateways, the Tufts students involved in the program attended a training session. During this session we discussed how to interact with the participants and how to make them feel comfortable in a new environment. We also went over the schedule for the program and simulated situations that might occur during the service. The training was a great experience that made me feel prepared and excited for my interactions with the participants.

The first Shabbat was a success. My friend and I were paired with our “buddy,” a girl from Boston who was excited to be at Hillel. Before services began, we discussed the meaning of Shabbat. Both the volunteers from Tufts and the participants from Gateways agreed Shabbat stands out form the rest of the week because it is a time for relaxation and reflection. It was easy to connect with the participants, as they were thrilled to be at services and amongst such warm and supportive college students. I particularly enjoyed eating dinner with my “buddy,” who joked around with me because I am not familiar with the geography of my hometown, Boston. Overall, the Gateways program made my Shabbat a very special experience. I look forward to the next one!

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