February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities and mental health conditions and those who love them.
As part of this initiative, the dynamic husband and wife duo of Cantor Daniel Benlolo and Muriel Suissa Benlolo have a fabulous program at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (4894 St. Kevin Avenue) featuring The Montreal Shira Choi on Saturday, February 8. Meanwhile, the Cummings Centre will be featuring several programs at its main campus located at 5700 Westbury Ave.
The Montreal Shira Choir is an inclusive group of singers with developmental disabilities dedicated to celebrating the power of music, to bring joy, to inspire and unite people of all ages and abilities. Cantor Benlolo serves as the musical director and leads the choir, with the assistance of Rebecca Bensimon. Muriel acts as the liaison/administrator and organizer. “This is one of my closest encounters of what doing good in this world is all about,” the charismatic Cantor told me.
Since its inception, the choir has received a number of community grants. This will allow the group to spread its wings. New members are always welcome. They have also launched a long-term project, which involves the creation of a documentary film by Evan Beloff about the choir geared mainly for educational purposes that epitomizes the power of music.
The Montreal Shira Choir will be collaborating this year with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue to offer two events in celebration of JDAIM. This is going to be the first time that the Spanish, which Cantor Benlolo joined a few months ago (indeed a star free-agent signing), will participate in JDAIM events. “It was important for Cantor Benlolo and myself to offer both a Shabbat morning event and an evening event,” said Muriel. “The Shabbat morning service will offer the members that attend the regular weekly and shabbat services a small preview of what JDAIM is all about and the evening event will be opened to both members and the community at large.”
At the morning event there will be a keynote address by Sam Benamron from Physio-Verdun, an inclusive business for the past four years. Male Jewish choir members who have a wide range of disabilities will be integrated into the service with aliyahs to the torah or honours like opening the ark, followed by a congregational Kiddush. The keynote speaker will be.
The evening event will start at 7 pm and will begin with a short Havdallah service. Cantor Benlolo will introduce the choir and they will perform three songs. Sam Benamron will speak again at night and introduce a 23 minute documentary. There will then be a panel discussion and Q&A with questions directed to his four special needs employees. Cantor Benlolo will ask questions to a few choir members and open the floor to the audience. The evening will conclude with the choir singing a couple more songs and a light dessert reception.
MOVIE NIGHT FEBRUARY 12
On Wednesday night February 12, Federation Movie Night the St Laurent Spheretech location of Cinemas Guzzo will feature two beautiful motion pictures, one in English and one in French. Muriel is the co-chair of this activity, presented by the Federation CJA Sephardic Division. The movie is called Hors Normes and delves into the world of autism. The English film is being presented by Federation CJA West Island and entitled The Samuel Project. You can see the trailers here. The evening will start with a big cocktail shared by all the people attending both movies. Doors open at 6 pm and the program commences at 7 pm at 3500 Boulevard Côte-Vertu Ouest. For more information, please contact Elise Abecassis at 514.734.1601.
Here are the events from the Cummings Centre, all at no charge:
On Wednesday February 12 from 3 to 5:30 pm an Intergenerational Discussion about Inclusion will be held at the Cummings Centre. Featured are a presentation on Inclusion and Belonging by Professor Darla Fortune, an intergenerational group discussion led by recreation therapy students from Concordia University and a creative exploration and collaboration on What Inclusion / Belonging Means to You with Art Therapist Jessica Gardner. To register call 514.343.3510.
On Monday February 17 from 10:30 to 11:30 am a discussion of The Benefits of Animal Therapy for people living with mental illness and/ or disabilities will be held at the Cummings Centre followed by a group therapy session. To register call Rosanna Magnone 514.734.1738.
On Thursday February 27, from 3 to 5:30 pm, the Cummings Centre presents an inclusive musical event, If You Want to Sing Out featuring the Glee Club, an afternoon of singing in celebration of diversity in the community. All ages and abilities are welcome. To register call Victoria McNeill 514.734.1779.
Also on Thursday February 27, from 10 am to 2 pm, Disability Inclusion at the Cummings Centre will be presented with an exhibition of community programs and accessories for adults 50+ living with disabilities. Information and resources will be made available for individuals living with mental illness, cognitive or physical disabilities or recovering from surgery. Partner organizations will be on-site exhibiting as well. Caregivers are welcome.
Among the areas to be featured are homecare, meals-on-wheels, transportation, and community mental health, day programs for people living with dementia, adapted programs (creative arts / fitness), support groups, virtual learning, in-home exercise training and volunteer opportunities.