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Maci reading the Torah, joined by her sister Carly and her father Marc.
Maci reading the Torah, joined by her sister Carly and her father Marc.

We did it!

“We did it!” Carly exclaimed as Shabbat services were coming to a close on the morning of May 22, 2021. The entire congregation smiled with tremendous joy during Adom Olam at Carly and Maci’s B’not Mitzvah (“b’not” is plural for girls) at Temple Beth El in Rochester, New York. Rebecca and Marc Reich have three daughters, Sammie, Carly, and Maci. Carly and Maci are twins, and at six months old, Carly was diagnosed with hypotonia and autism.

The Reich family’s journey is a remarkable example of embracing the “not knowing.” It is a lesson in being willing to ask for help, figuring out the questions, and seeking answers—with persistence, flexibility, and love. According to Rebecca, “We had to figure it out: where to begin and who to talk to. You have to ask the questions. As a parent, you just have to advocate.” Rebecca’s research started online with the discovery of Gateways, an inclusive Jewish education academy, and Matan, an organization that trains Jewish communal leaders in inclusive practices. She also joined Facebook groups for special needs b’nai mitzvah families that shared experiences, stories, and suggestions.

Maci and Carly spent over a year preparing for their b’not mitzvah. Due to the pandemic, much of the instruction was done on Zoom. In addition, each week for three months, Rebecca and Carly went to Temple Beth El. They sat on the bimah (sanctuary platform) and practiced the prayers—over and over again—to add familiarity and comfort to the learning process. The unequivocal goal was to make the learning, the ceremony, and the celebration work for everyone.

On the day of the b’not mitzvah, Carly and Maci led much of the Torah service. Carly absolutely loves music and animals, especially horses. She takes horseback riding and voice lessons weekly. Two prerecorded songs by Carly were played during services. Maci is an avid soccer player but also displays leadership qualities; therefore, she took the lead during services. Their cousin Hanna was their “bimah buddy,” comforting and aiding both girls during the service. Carly had a binder with picture symbols and large-print transliterations of the songs and prayers. The D’var Torah (reflections on the Torah reading), was formatted with questions and answers that Maci and Carly did together. Their mitzvah (good deed) project raised awareness and money for the therapeutic, assisted horseback riding program at Heritage Christian Stables. Since the age of six, Carly has enjoyed riding horses there, which has helped her motor and sensory input, core strength, and posture.

Due to the pandemic, Rebecca and Marc felt it was important that all family and friends, whether local or out of town, were included in the Shabbat morning service. Shabbat goodie bags were mailed to everyone who was unable to join in person. The Shabbat bag included candles, the Shabbat program, candy to throw during “Mazel Tov” cheer, and a write-up about the mitzvah project.

During the b’not mitzvah service, when Carly finished a prayer or a blessing, she proudly exclaimed, “I did it!” The spirit of Carly’s exclamation rang true for the Reich family and those in the sanctuary and the hundred-plus friends and family from around the world on Zoom.

“While researching how to create an inclusive B’not Mitzvah for our children, I learned that we need to build around their strengths. Highlighting their achievements was the focus in making this a personal yet meaningful event.”
—Rebecca Reich

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