Purim carnival welcomes kids with special needs

A collaborative effort to be inclusive, welcoming and supportive of Jewish children with special needs and their families came to life on Feb. 24 at a Purim celebration and carnival at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo.

After choosing a key that fits into padlock, Talia gets to pick a prize from the treasure chest.

The event was run under the auspices of Include, an initiative on the North Peninsula that involves 10 local Jewish organizations, with S.F.-based Jewish LearningWorks serving as the lead agency in partnership with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

In addition to a Beth El lineup that included a Megillah reading, a Purimshpiel, singing, face painting and a big carnival, there was a special sensory-friendly carnival that took place in a quiet room.

Fifteen sixth-graders and two seventh-graders from Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City served as volunteers at the smaller carnival. Many families came with their special-needs children and siblings.

If Jonah’s selection from the lollipop tree has a dot, he wins an extra ticket.

“The beauty of the sensory carnival is that families can come through regardless of special need, without being required to disclose information about their children,” said Dr. David Neufeld, director of special-needs programs and services at Jewish LearningWorks. “The rooms are not limited to children who have diagnosed special needs.”

In a bowling game, Manuel slides a disc toward the pins.

The quieter room had five games, all of which also were happening in the main carnival. Kids could explore the games in a calmer environment and then, potentially, try them in the main carnival once they felt more confident, Neufeld said. The games were standard Purim carnival fare.

“It was a fun, dynamic, yet not overwhelming event, and many families expressed their gratitude and excitement in being able to take part in the carnival when they might otherwise not have been able to,” he said.

According to Jewish LearningWorks, more than 9,000 Jewish children in the areas served by the federation are diagnosed with a learning challenge. The Include initiative seeks to help them find a home within the Jewish community. n