Jan Isaacson and Gregory Jay first met in 1995 when they set off on a Young Professionals trip to Israel sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. They knew it would be impactful, but they never imagined it would be the life-altering trip where they would meet each other. They also had no idea it would be the start of local Jewish organizations continuing to shape their lives and that of their family for the better.
Jan and Gregory began dating in 2000 and had their son Jared in 2002. In January 2005, Jan and Gregory received the news that their 27-month old son, Jared, was on the Autism Spectrum. Through early intervention, continuous therapy and a variety of treatments, Jared communicates via an alternative communication device yet still has great difficulty attending to daily tasks. For the last 11 years, Jan and Gregory have combed the ends of the earth pursuing specialists and therapies to give Jared every opportunity to lead a fulfilling life. Along the way, they have learned – as Gregory said – that “just because he can’t speak doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything to say.”
As Jared, now 13, approached Bar Mitzvah age, Jan and Gregory refused to let his disability rob him and their entire family of this important rite of passage. Jared deserved to be acknowledged by the Jewish community like every other child.
Rabbi Bradley Levenberg and Bunzi Family Cantorial Chair Beth Schafer of Temple Sinai worked with the Jays to not only ensure that Jared had a Bar Mitzvah, but to make it as unique and exceptional as Jared. In an unconventional yet poignant ceremony, Jared sat in the front row of the sanctuary, wearing a suit and his beloved Crocs, and he led the congregation in Havdallah blessings using a communication app. His younger sister gave a D’varTorah contrasting Jacob and Esau’s relationship to hers and Jared’s, and his family spoke about what they were thankful to Jared for and what they had learned from him.
Jared’s Bar Mitzvah is just one opportunity that has come with the assistance of Atlanta’s Jewish agencies. Jared also attends camp and participates in activities at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Through the Greater Atlanta Jewish Abilities Alliance (JAA) Committee, powered by Federation, individuals with disabilities and their families can access resources, services, and support. This makes it possible for everyone in our community to experience their Jewish heritage. Thanks in part to the JAA, organizations around town are collaborating to promote an inclusive, spirited environment that celebrates the diversity in our community and the uniqueness of every member of Jewish Atlanta.