OF ALL THE Jewish holidays, I’ve always found Sukkot to be one of the most fun and meaningful. After the intensity of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, kicking back in a sukkah and enjoying a meal with friends under the open sky is just my speed.
While the holiday of Sukkot may in fact have non-Jewish roots as a festival celebrating the fall harvest (with the sukkah representing farmers’ huts), the Torah reinterpreted it to imbue it with Jewish meaning. And so Sukkot (the Festival of Booths) is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, commemorating the sheltering of the Israelites in the wilderness during the 40 years they wandered in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt.
By all interpretations, Sukkot is a commemoration of shelter and the fortitude of a people. It is in this light that I am especially heartened by the opening later this month of our community’s second Jewish residential home for adults with special needs: Horwitz Family House. Like a sukkah, Horwitz Family House (which follows in the tradition of our first residential home, Mandel House) provides shelter and is emblematic of the strength of our people – the strength of our community.
Jewish Federations & Family Services (JFFS) residential homes for adults with special needs provide a supported living environment that meets the unique needs of residents and gives them the opportunity to be active in Jewish life. Every day, residents receive assistance with activities of daily living, socialization, nutrition, and healthy living skills. The house is staffed around the clock by friendly, supportive and highly-trained individuals. Jewish organizations and community volunteers provide Jewish cultural and seasonal events.
Other activities, such as nutrition education, exercise with volunteer trainers, organic gardening and healthy cooking are also provided through support from the Herb & Barbara Cohen Enrichment/Wellness fund.
Jewish residential homes like Horwitz Family House and Mandel House are the utmost expression of love and care from our community to families who have adult children with special needs. As they reach adulthood, young people with special needs also reach a crossroads in care. As children, they may have relied on their parents and wonderful community organizations like Friendship Circle for support. But how does their care – and yearning for independence – manifest as they age?
Creating a home away from home that is safe, loving, and offers opportunity for inclusion in Jewish life is a blessing beyond description for the parents of adult children with special needs – a blessing that’s been made possible because of the kindness of our Orange County Jewish community. Horwitz Family House came to fruition because of the extraordinary gift of Bernie Horwitz and Brad Horwitz, through the Horwitz Family Memorial Fund, who joined numerous other local philanthropists in recognizing a profound need in our community and committing to fulfil it.
Indeed, their generosity in funding the purchase of the Horwitz Family House property, like the Mandel House before it (purchased with broad community support and a cornerstone gift from the Mandel family), has been recognized as a respected model in the North American Jewish community. The enduring gift of Jewish homes for adults with special needs is really the ultimate gesture of love and compassion.
As we celebrate Sukkot this year, let us remember the figurative shelter we can all provide to our community – through our philanthropy and through acts of loving-kindness (gemilut hasadim). Because we are indeed responsible for everyone in our community. And because inclusion elevates us all.