Gateways Shabbat happen every few weeks. We always start the evening with an interactive discussion about some aspect of Judaism, whether it be the next-approaching holiday or our favorite Shabbat meals. We then head over to Hillel, where we sing together in services and eat dinner. I am lucky enough to spend these nights with Ilyse, an eighteen year old woman with Down Syndrome. She defines spunk, is always color coordinated (even down to her glasses!), and is one of the very few people who shares my love for Justin Bieber. Yet Ilyse and I have developed a bond that runs deeper than just talking about musicians or her color choice of the week. We have gained an understanding of one another and work off each other’s emotions. Her laughter makes me laugh; her smile makes me happy; her success makes me proud. She has become so much more than a just a buddy; she is truly a friend.
Shimon HaTzadik used to say: “Upon three things the world stands: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of loving-kindness” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Gateways is a program that brings together these three tenets of Judaism in a unique way, and the fact that this is one of Ilyse’s favorite songs during services makes this quote all the more fitting. We spend time learning about Judaism, actively engaging ourselves in Shabbat worship, and working together in the spirit of gemilut chasadim. My Shabbat experience has been made all the more meaningful through Gateways and I constantly find myself looking forward to the next one!