Asher Landrecht had a special Shabbat service on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah.
A camper of Ramah Day Camp for seven years, the 13-year-old led the kiddush in front of 200 fellow campers and his family with the help of a special communicative device that read the Hebrew words aloud.
“We couldn’t imagine our Ramah family without him,” says a caption accompanying a video the camp posted on Facebook.
Asher, who is minimally verbal and was diagnosed with autism at 21 months old, became a Bar Mitzvah the following morning at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, after training and learning and practicing with Bruce Sham, a special needs planner.
Sham also is the co-founder of the synagogue’s Amanda Sham Resource Center for Children with Special Needs, and it was an “aligning of the planets” when he came into Asher’s life, said Asher’s mom, Victoria McGuigan.
She and her husband, David Landrecht, met Sham first for insurance purposes, but it turned into a conversation about Asher becoming a Bar Mitzvah.
For Asher’s family, between the service at camp and on the bimah, it was a moving experience.
“That was absolutely wonderful,” McGuigan said, “because all his camp friends over the past seven years and staff that have known him over the years were able to celebrate.”
A Temple University adjunct professor in dance, she combined her passion for arts and advocacy to create dance programming that teaches children and adults about neuro diversity. She’s also done Ramah staff trainings for a few summers.
She said Asher’s experience at Ramah has come full circle, as they embraced him when he started and many from the community were present years later.
“The service was amazing. I bawled, cried, from the second he started,” said Eileen Graub, Ramah’s assistant director.
She’s known the “amazing” family since Asher has been a camper, and has worked closely with them to help give Asher the best camp experience.
“Along the way he’s made friends and he’s given to them as much as they’ve given to him as far as just the experience of being with him in a group,” she said.
His camp friends joined him on the dance floor after the service, which was adapted for Asher, McGuigan said, and allowed him to use iPads to speak aloud his Torah portion and prayers through special apps.
Asher had school friends at his service, which McGuigan noted added to the experience.
Asher attends Holy Rosary Regional Catholic School in Plymouth Meeting, as it was the school that embraced his family.
One of his school friends even read a prayer during the service.
“Seeing kids from the Catholic tradition and Jewish tradition together was so moving,” McGuigan said. It was a reflection of the “beautiful, diverse and all embracing community that we’ve cultivated because these schools, camps, organizations have been willing to hear, to listen and to learn about Asher.”
She admitted the family is still riding a weekend afterglow.
“It’s quite an experience for everyone,” she said.