Children with Special Needs Gain Confidence as They Become Bar or Bat Mitzvahs

Sometimes taking a leap of faith can deliver unexpected miracles.


Despite unique challenges, Michelle Rappaport, Jack Rosen and Scott Tepperman each made their bar or bat mitzvah. Michelle has been diagnosed with familial dysautonomia, a rare genetic disorder; Jack and Scott have autism.

For Michelle, her journey began at Keshet. Dedicated to helping individuals with developmental disabilities reach their personal potential in all areas, including Jewish religious growth, Keshet has helped hundreds of youngsters through their bar and bat mitzvah tutoring program.

For Jack, it was his rabbi who preached acceptance and welcomed children with special needs to worship. For Scott, it was his love of Shabbat services, music and the peace of a beautiful sanctuary. With the support of their home synagogues and the help of Keshet tutors, each was able to demonstrate the enormous growth and maturity that any bar or bat mitzvah must, through study and practice.

“So often we focus on a child’s deficits,” says Audrey Tepperman, Scott’s mother. “On his bar mitzvah, Scott reminded us all of his many strengths. He wore his Tallit, opened the Ark and walked with the Torah. All of these were big things that required lots of practice. It was his turn to stand on the bima in his own way.” Standing beside him, as with each milestone, were his parents: Audrey read Scott’s Torah portion and his father, Dan, delivered the sermon.

For more than two years, Jack practiced his prayers. On the day of his service, he gave voice to his potential. “Here was our child, who has minimal speech, reciting prayers in Hebrew,” Wendy Rosen remembers. “He looked out at the congregation, seeing all the people who have been so present in his life, and gave them the composure and performance of a lifetime.”

While also largely non-verbal, Michelle recited her Aliyah, prayers and chants, proving to herself and everyone how capable she is. “Michelle has her good and bad days, but that was one of her best,” explains her mother, Barrie Rappaport. “She reminded us of how present she is and how, with acceptance and a willingness to find a way to make it work, we can help her accomplish so much more than we ever anticipated.”

These services were also a time to thank the people who worked with their children for so many years. Therapists, nurses, teachers and aides joined friends and family. Michelle’s father Rick gave a special toast to “Team Michelle.”

“Our rabbi reminds us that special needs kids are closer to God because their emotions are so authentic,” Wendy Rosen says. “Jack held it together until the end of the service and finally broke into giggles, and we all joined in. It was a complete and utter expression of joy, of the happiness that is Jack.”

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