Kisharon caters for individuals at all levels of observance, but when asked: “Why Kisharon?” even non-religious families will say Jewish identity played a major part in their decision making.
Everyone is encouraged to join in Jewish activities, but Kisharon’s personalised care strategy sees that no-one is cajoled into religious practices they might feel uncomfortable with.
Rabbi Beni Fleischer, Jewish Life Facilitator, pictured, said: “A subtle understanding exists that an Orthodox lifestyle is what Kisharon stands for, and it filters into all Kisharon does.”
Kisharon’s Orthodox ethos is behind the separation of genders in supported living and activities for people we support, as well as the modest dress code, which applies for even non-Jewish staff.
Rabbi Beni said: “A sense of identity, and wanting to be part of the community, family and tradition is no less important for people with learning disabilities.
“They may not necessarily express it or realise it, but when you really get to know people with learning disabilities they share a lot in common with everybody else. We know where we stand in our faith, our culture and religion so too this is an important part of their lives.”
Kisharon leaves no stone unturned to meet the exacting cultural and religious requirements of the people it supports. Everyone has a written Jewish support plan drawn up in conjunction with the individual, their family and Kisharon staff.
“It’s about getting a sense of their level of observance, although in some cases disability precludes full involvement, so that means working out with parents what it is possible to deliver.”
The result is a heart-warming mix. At Kisharon birthdays are always celebrated – some on English dates and others according to the Hebrew calendar, a few individuals observe all the fasts while others don’t fast at all, and it’s where you’ll hear Chassidic music ringing out, and even find out that non-Jewish staff have gently reminded an individual in their care after lunch that now it’s time to bensch.
Kisharon offers three levels of kashrut in its main supported living kitchens. The most basic is KLBD-approved groceries and regular milk, while the highest is mehadrin kosher – the most stringent label of all.
Non-Jewish staff maintain these standards, but also lend a hand at smaller kitchens in individual flats – even in the same building – that may operate at a different level of kashrut.
Rabbi Beni admits: “This can be difficult but complexities create openness and staff are happy to follow instructions because they know how important it is. It’s all about providing the right religious and cultural support, and we try to maintain good relationships so staff feel valued and supported.”
Kisharon is already well supported by the local community. Volunteers come in to light Shabbat candles, make Havdalah, befriend and much else besides. But even more involvement would definitely make the Jewish light in Kisharon burn more strongly.
Rabbi Beni said: “I encourage people from the community to consider the advantages of being part of the lives of people with learning disabilities who have very special neshamas that, when one engages with them, can really bring a wonderful source of meaning and open up a world of kindness and love.”