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Prom night a 'fabulous' time for special-needs adults

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Posted: Friday, July 28, 2000 12:00 am

Flowers, entertainment, food, decorations, gifts, time and good company generated an unforgettable prom night for a group of adults with disabilities.

Yad B'Yad (hand-in-hand) is a group for adults, ages 18-40, with autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and other special needs, sponsored by the Council for Jews with Special Needs.

The prom, held June 4 at Temple Chai in Phoenix, gave partygoers the chance to dress up, share a formal meal, dance and socialize.

"This group danced nonstop, they never sat down," says Becca Hornstein, executive director for CJSN. "For two hours, they just danced their brains out.... They were whooping and hollering and it was joyous."

Abbie Heller, 38, a Yad B'Yad member since the group began in 1990, says the prom was "fabulous...like a wedding or a bat mitzvah." She bought a new dress for the evening and kept her corsage in the refrigerator for weeks afterwards as a reminder.

Each guest received a rose boutonniere or corsage contributed by Cactus Flower Florists and dined on food donated by Arizona Catering and Karsh's Bakery. Guests posed in front of a lattice background for photographs by Mark Gluckman and received hats and noisemakers from Simcha Sound owner Alan Isaacson and his wife Amy, who provided the evening's entertainment.

A family donated glittering tinsel palm trees from their daughter's bat mitzvah to add to the "Seaside Fantasy" theme. Shovels and buckets decorated tabletops, along with brightly colored wooden fish and multicolored strands of beads. The centerpieces had been designed by Illiana Sanders for last year's CJSN fund-raiser, and then donated to a preschool.

"I thought it was one of the loveliest events that I ever attended," says Diane Inger, whose son Steven, 28, is active in the group.

Inger says she is grateful for the CJSN's work.

"Steven never had anyone to share Judaism with and he has that in this group," she says. "In my mind, it's not really a religious matter. ... Everyone, no matter what their religious backgrounds are, should have their heritage and be proud of it. I just want that for my son."

Because Yad B'Yad is made up predominantly of men, four teenage girls from local synagogues who volunteer throughout the year, attended the dance. They wore formal dresses, styled their hair and were dance partners for the evening.

Several parents also attended.

Jesse Shnier and guest Greta Lukic were crowned king and queen.

Staff and board members donated gifts such as Diamondbacks tickets, leather wallets, stationery and stereo headsets.

The prom was dedicated to the memory of Carol Zimtbaum, who died last year. She was instrumental in the founding of the group. Her family members and friends donated money in her name to help sponsor the event. Zimtbaum's son, Ronald, 39, is a member.

Yad B'Yad was started by CJSN and Temple Chai to provide a gathering place for men and women with disabilities to meet and interact with each other; enhance their Jewish identity through religious, cultural and social activities; and to offer the parents of these adults an opportunity to meet and share their concerns.

Group members - there are 35-40 total members - meet once or twice a month for various activities, including holiday celebrations, bowling, miniature golf and concerts. About 12-15 people show up at each event, Hornstein says.

"It's a good group to be in. I wish they had more people involved," says Ronald Zimtbaum, who says his favorite activities are the parties.

Group directors are sisters Sherri and Ellen Spinner, who are both special education teachers.

The foundation for CJSN dates back to 1984 when Hornstein's son, Joel, was 9. She worked with Temple Chai to start a special education program at the synagogue because she wanted Joel, who has autism, to "have the opportunity to have a Jewish education and to have a bar mitzvah."

A year later, CJSN became a constituent agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. The agency served 110 students last year.

In 1999, CJSN introduced a social program for teens to fill the programming gap between the bar or bat mitzvah and Yad B'Yad.

Hornstein says that Temple Chai was "tremendously supportive of what I wanted to do, which was to provide opportunities for children, teens and adults who have disabilities to be part of the Jewish community."

Future plans for Yad B'Yad include a b'nai mitzvah program for adults with developmental and learning disabilities. The program will include a group service in which each adult will participate at a different level depending on ability. A special education teacher will lead Sunday afternoon classes at Temple Chai.

For more information about CSJN, call 602-277-4243 or e-mail Info@CJSN.org.

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