Weekly Class Connects Residents with Jewish Life

Weekly Class Connects Residents with Jewish Life

Every week for over fifteen years, Rabbi David Rosenberg visits one of the adult living homes supported by JCFS Chicago to teach a Jewish Learning class to a small group of residents.

“In our community, Rabbi Rosenberg is a super star,” said Leticia Cardoso, Director of Residential Supports. “His commitment to our department has been invaluable, steady and indispensable.”

Each Monday at 4pm, Rabbi Rosenberg engages the residents with Jewish stories, videos and music. Most recently they have been reading selections from Anne Frank’s Diary.

“I’m very attentive to the fact that each resident has a different cognitive capacity,” he said, adding that there are residents who can read, residents who can’t, residents who can participate more in conversations and discussions and those who are just very pleased to be a part of a Jewish learning experience.

“A lot of what I’m doing is bringing serious meaningful Jewish concepts to them in a way that is approachable and engaging,” said Rabbi Rosenberg, who is the Coordinator of Jewish Educational Services at JCFS, and spends his days teaching at the Knapp School Yeshiva.

When he joined the staff at JCFS in 2007, Rabbi Rosenberg began visiting the residential supports homes. The class grew organically from his visits and from residents’ suggestions, he said.

“I’m aware that it’s possible for a Rabbi to go in and give some sort of a talk,” he said. “But that wouldn’t be very engaging.”

Instead, Rabbi Rosenberg likes to mix it up when it comes to class content. He said the residents especially enjoy watching YouTube videos, such as a rabbi discussing the week’s Torah portion, and TV shows with Jewish themes like Shtisel and A Small Light. They also spend time listening to Jewish music groups, such as Six13 and The Maccabeats, as well as talking about upcoming Jewish holidays. Rabbi Rosenberg said he often pauses videos to discuss the content and make sure it’s making sense to the residents.

“I think a guiding light for me in my relationship with the residents is that regardless of their disabilities, regardless of their cognitive challenges or their challenges of expressive language or their social emotional challenges, they’re looking for connection the way anyone is looking for connection,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. “They want to be connected to Jewish life the way their neurotypical family members are.

“And this is an opportunity to reach them where they are and for them to feel that they are having a serious Jewish learning encounter on a level that is appropriate and that speaks to them.”

Cardoso said the class plays such an important part of the residents’ week and their connection to their traditions.

Rabbi Rosenberg would agree.

“It’s very meaningful to me,” he said. “It’s been a highpoint of my week.”