The TaImud (Tractate Sukkah 27B), contains the following discussion concerning the requirement to sit in a Sukkah on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei:
“And the Rabbis say: Although they said that a person does not fulfill his obligation on the first day of the Festival with the lulav of another, he fulfills his obligation with the Sukkah of another, as it is written: ‘All the homeborn in Israel shall reside in sukkot’ (Leviticus 23:42). This teaches that all of Israel are fit to reside in one Sukkah.”
Clearly, no Sukkah exists that is large enough to hold the entire Jewish people. Thus, what could we understand as the meaning of all of the Jewish people sitting together in a single Sukkah?
For many years, the inclusion of special needs children in shul (synagogue) programming, particularly, the indispensable Shabbat morning groups, has been overlooked. This issue resonates in several areas. Without such a program, parents of these children are often reluctant to come to Shul, for fear of them being disruptive. Further, this incapability leaves the siblings of these children without the full opportunity to sit in Shul with their parents and gain from that important experience.
The Sukkot holiday is a golden opportunity to foster inclusion in your Shul’s youth department programming. For example, ensure that every child can join your shul‘s “Sukkah Hop,” by staffing it with shadows. Guarantee that every child has a place in Yom Tov morning groups. Have accommodations for every child at Youth Hakafos. And, make sure that every child will take part in the Kol HaNearim Aliyah.
Significantly, inclusion in your shul is not limited to Sukkot. Indeed, several years ago, the Orthodox Union published: “Thinking Beyond a Ramp: No-to-Low Cost Ideas to be Inclusive as a Synagogue.” This tremendous resource may be found here, and provides a wonderful guide to begin making your shul more inclusive for people with special needs.
My family is fortunate to belong to a shul which prioritizes the inclusion of children with special needs in its youth department programming, through its revolutionary shadow program. And, several shul youth departments, from Teaneck to Riverdale to West Orange to Boca Raton to Los Angeles to Toronto, lovingly accommodate children with special needs. However, these shuls still represent a minority. For too many shuls, inclusion is unfortunately nonexistent. This must change!
While no Sukkah can physically fit every single child, every child should be made to feel included in every Sukkah. The time for inclusion is now.