Faith and Culture
As a Jewish agency operating within a framework of Jewish culture and values, Reena supports individuals with developmental disabilities to develop spiritually and feel a sense of belonging to their roots, culture and community.
As a faith based community agency, we understand the importance of supporting people of all cultures and religious denominations with their spiritual growth.
Reena places great importance on ensuring that both staff and volunteers have a good understanding of Jewish values and traditions. Although there is no requirement for staff or volunteers to be Jewish or to have previous knowledge about Judaism, there is a requirement to have an open mind with respect to learning about Judaism and to willingly accept the challenge of helping individuals supported by Reena develop spiritually.
The High Holy Days are an exciting time at Reena, with lots of preparation for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah done in advance. We are committed to ensuring that the people we support have the same opportunities as the rest of the Jewish Community to observe and enjoy.
We provide “High Holiday” training for all staff. We assist individuals in participating at synagogue, Yom Tov feasts and visiting the graves of departed loved ones.
We are very grateful for the generosity of the local synagogues for donating tickets to their services. The synagogues provide a happy, healthy and fulfilling Yom Tov.
For the holiday of Sukkot, sukkahs are built at a number of Reena locations and the individuals living there often host dinners and other celebrations. We are also invited to participate in the mitzvah of benching lulav and esrog and learning about the holiday.
Reena participants celebrate Chanukah by learning about the holiday, lighting the menorah for eight nights and exchanging gifts. They also host and attend Chanukah parties which include traditional foods, holiday music, dreidles and dancing.
A number of Purim costume balls take place at Reena locations where supported individuals both host and attend parties. A play is put on by the Reena Community about the story of Purim. The sound of noisemakers fill the air, mishloach manot is distributed to friends and the needy, contests are held with prizes for the best costumes and, of course, hamantashen and other treats are enjoyed.
Preparations at Reena begin about one month before the holiday in order to ensure that all the necessary changes take place in our group homes. Seders are conducted at a number of Reena locations and the Toronto Jewish Community steps up to the plate year after year by inviting Reena participants to their family seders or volunteering to conduct a seder in a Reena group home. A full afternoon of celebration at the Day Program is held featuring a play re-enacting the story of freedom from slavery, treats and music.
Individuals at Reena are encouraged to celebrate the holiday in a traditional manner, where learning sessions are arranged, meaningful activities take place and everyone enjoys feasting on dairy foods.
The Birthright Israel Program promotes inclusion for people with special needs as they experience and enjoy Israel while nurturing ongoing friendships through the tremendous opportunity and generosity extended by Birthright Israel. The program is offered to all young Jewish people between the ages of 18 and 26. Through the collaboration of Reena and Canada Israel Experience (CIE), people with developmental disabilities who fit the requirements are also included as participants.
Reena provides training for prospective shadows for people with developmental disabilities and meets with prospective participants to determine if they are appropriate for the trip. A special fund has been set up at Reena Foundation, known as The Reena Birthright Shadow Program Fund, which covers half the cost of a shadow for each trip.
In the many years that Reena and CIE have worked together to include individuals with developmental disabilities on the trip, the impact has been magnified not just for the participants with special needs and their extended families and friends, but for the rest of the folks on the trip who never fail to reach out and embrace their new friends, often for the long term.
This has opened doors for understanding, compassion and appreciation of the gifts individuals with developmental disabilities have to offer.