Kids of All Abilities Participate in Sports Spectacular

Ethan Chalker and Maxie Mandel | Photos by Jay Gorodetzer Photography

On an overcast afternoon at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, children bounced on yoga balls, knocked down bowling pins and hit balls with hockey sticks.

The Sunday Sports Spectacular, an event put on by the Philly Friendship Circle, Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence (JCHAI) and Har Zion brought children with and without physical and intellectual disabilities to play a variety of games together on June 3.

“You saw a lot of participation from kids with disabilities and neurotypical kids,” JCHAI Executive Director Stacy Levitan said. “It seemed seamless. You’d be hard pressed to figure out who the kids were with disabilities and who the kids were without disabilities. They were all participating and having a great time.”

The event was the brainchild of Michael Kirschner, a lifelong Har Zion member. Through his alma mater, Pennsylvania State University, he had experience working with the Special Olympics and wanted to organize an event like it using the synagogue’s facilities for a while, but never knew quite how to go about it.

Then, one day in November, he met Rabbi Zev Baram, the executive director of the Philly Friendship Circle. Baram explained that his organization put on programming for children with disabilities.

Michael Kirschner and Patty Kirschner at registration with Doug Levitan and JCHAI Executive Director Stacy Levitan

“I said, ‘This is perfect for my dream,’” Kirschner said. “We met and decided it was a great idea.”

The event planning was led by an executive committee comprised of Kirschner; Levitan; Baram; Jared Pashko, marketing and outreach manager at the Philly Friendship Circle; Jared Rosenbloom, program and curriculum manager at the Philly Friendship Circle; Gavi Miller, executive director at Har Zion; and Norman Einhorn, director of member engagement and communications at Har Zion and director of Lower Merion Area Hebrew High (LMAHH).

JCHAI members and LMAHH students came on board to staff the event as well. Einhorn said LMAHH is an inclusive school, so the students are familiar with working with others who have different abilities.

Other Jewish organizations and community members, like Kaiserman JCC CEO Amy Krulik, participated as well.

“It really is a win-win,” Einhorn said, “between [the] synagogue chipping in, and students chipping in, and [a] congregant having vision, and being able to pull it off, and being able to take something — so many things start around a table, in a committee, that don’t go anywhere — and watch the community gel together and have this turn into a real event that we hope will be the beginning of many more years.”

Kaiserman JCC CEO Amy Krulik leads the opening ceremony.

Over the winter, Einhorn said, Rosenbloom did a walk-through of Har Zion with him and Miller. They talked about accessibility to ensure the event space would be truly inclusive for people of all abilities. Einhorn said it was a learning opportunity for him, where he got to consider potential barriers like unlevel ground and stairs.

The day’s activities were carefully considered so all participating children would feel included. Rosenbloom created a list of activities that could be accommodated and adapted for different abilities. For the hockey shot, for example, having hockey sticks with different grips, heights and thicknesses allowed participants to choose the stick with which they felt most comfortable.

“Opening events like this up to athletes of all abilities and creating a level playing field for everybody to engage together is really something that these families have been really attracted to,” Pashko said. “They really love and really appreciate [it], and [it’s] really a way to create an inclusive community [where] we’re all welcoming each other together.”

The event ended with an awards ceremony. Rosenbloom said the awards recognized creative accomplishments, such as best touchdown dance, in addition to more traditional successes like strongest shot and fastest runner.

“The reason the awards were given was nowhere near as important as seeing someone be the recipient of the award,” Kirschner said. “That was the joy.”

The members of the executive committee say they see this event as just the first in what they hope becomes an annual tradition. Kirschner said he envisions the Sunday Sports Spectacular an an event other communities may want to copy.

“From the beginning, it was a dream,” Kirschner said. “But then, after having contact with Friendship Circle, and quickly after Stacy and JCHAI, I saw the only thing holding it back was energy.”; 215-832-0729


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