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‘Our son cannot walk or talk… but is so happy in our truly inclusive community’

North West Surrey Synagogue members Laurence and Jeremy
North West Surrey Synagogue members Laurence and Jeremy

North West Surrey Synagogue member Laurence Smith has written movingly about his profoundly disabled son Jeremy and the love and welcome they have found in the “truly inclusive” Progressive community at NWSS.

Together the family, and the synagogue, have helped Jeremy live a Jewish life undiminished by his severe disability – including becoming Bar Mitzvah.

Although he now attends shul less regularly – as his Norwood care home is a distance away – Jeremy is always hugely popular whenever he visits, and his many contributions include helping to encourage the goodness within others.

You can read Laurence’s words below and order his book, telling Jeremy’s story, here:

I am privileged to be a member of North West Surrey Synagogue’s community since 1985. My four children were all Bar and Bat Mitzvah there, including my profoundly disabled son, Jeremy, who now lives in Woodcock Dell, a care home managed by the Norwood charity.

Despite Jeremy’s severe learning and extensive physical disability – cerebral palsy, scoliosis and epilepsy – he knows and loves NWSS. He cannot walk or talk but lets me know in no uncertain terms how happy he is whenever he arrives at his shul.

NWSS is second home to him, which is no surprise since our community supported and loved him through thick and thin.

Aged four years, he sat with his peers in Cheder while his teacher held his hand and helped him colour in pictures of Joseph’s dream coat. Fifteen years later, one of his classmates on return from university, sidled up to me after a Shabbat service and asked after Jeremy. He never forgot the frail and strange boy in his class who sometimes lay on the floor and gurgled with laughter at something he could not see.

We took Jeremy and his three sisters to many Shabbat and Festival services, where he crawled around the sanctuary to greet his favourite members and shriek along to the melodies. His favourite place was directly before the Ark, so he could stare at the light glinting on the dressed scrolls, or perhaps bask in the divine presence. During Kiddush, one of our founder members remarked, “he communes with God.”

In 2005, Jeremy became Bar Mitzvah in a packed NWSS sanctuary. Our Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Jackie Tabick, formulated a special service for him. We laminated a copy of his Sedra portion and placed it on a low table before the open Ark. Jeremy’s mum wheeled him up to the table, where I placed the yad in his hand and leyned for him. Normally, he resists any attempt to restrain him, such as by holding his hand, but on this occasion, he fell silent and still.

Jeremy now lives in Woodcock Dell
Jeremy now lives in Woodcock Dell

Jeremy’s mum, Liz, sisters and I are blessed to have such warm memories of his time in NWSS. He occasionally visits our shul, although owing to the distance between his care home in north London and Weybridge, it is not as often as we would like. But when he does visit his friends at NWSS, they greet him like a long-lost relative.

Another of our founder members, in her late eighties, jumped for joy when Jeremy rewarded her with his toothy grin, reserved for his special friends and close relatives. That is what belonging to a truly inclusive community means.

In 2011, aged 19, Jeremy left home for Woodcock Dell in north London, a care home managed by the Norwood charity. In 2016, I walked solo for 540 miles along a mountain range as a sign of my undying gratitude to his selfless and dedicated carers. I have published two books and will donate all royalties to Norwood.

My book, Two Journeys – Undiminished and Unforgotten, is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon here. It tells Jeremy’s story, from his birth and our hopes for his future, through the dreadful days when his prognosis became clear, until we accepted his condition and promised to help him live a Jewish life undiminished by his profound disability.

I do not want him to be forgotten for the contribution he has made – people with conditions like Jeremy’s often encourage the goodness within us, through acts of lovingkindness, such as those at NWSS.

The second book, Two Journeys – the Sign, will be available via the same link on 30 September. This tells the story of my eight-week journey along the Pyrenees, fighting a paralysing fear of heights but determined to “lay my life on the line, just as Jeremy’s carers do for him, 24 hours every day.”

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