The Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Religious School nurtures the Jewish identities of all students, regardless of learning, emotional, and physical abilities. Responding to a communal need, we created a specialized program for children with autism. Now in its tenth year, our Kulanu Program provides an enriching Jewish learning experience for children who are on the autism spectrum and their families.
This unique program — kulanu means “all of us” — reaches individuals with autism spectrum disorder who are nonverbal, who have difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and who are familiar with the applied behavior analysis techniques. Our goals are to embrace children of all abilities, ensure that they have the opportunity to celebrate their bar/bat mitzvah, and welcome these children and their families into the larger Jewish community.
We offer classes for young children, ages 8-12, and older children, ages 13-17. For more information, please e-mail the Religious School Office at or call 212-877-4050, ext. 230.
"When the Kulanu class first started, we hoped that it would help our son learn basic Jewish rituals, customs and prayers so he could participate with his family as well as feel a connection to his Jewish identity and community. The class has far exceeded all of our expectations. The teachers have taught him through visuals, hands-on activities, music and games to take part in the observance of both Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. He no longer just watches, he takes an active role in these events, pouring the grape juice, passing the challah, covering his eyes during candle lighting and saying the prayers. Our son has had so much fun and learned so much that our hopes are higher than ever that he will continue to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be Jewish and take part in significant rites of passage, such as bar mitzvah and confirmation.”
“David had become highly motivated to learn and has developed a love for his bar mitzvah. While lying in bed, David still sings along to the [bar mitzvah] songs he knows. All this from a boy who has very limited speech! It was hard not to sense the hand of God resting on David's shoulder as he made impressive progress. Needless to say, the actual bar mitzvah day was an amazing achievement for David and an incredibly moving experience for all who attended. Beyond the bar mitzvah component, the Kulanu Program is built with a sense of urgency in its structure and richness. The design of the program takes into consideration the littlest of details in an effort to maximize learning during the students’ every minute of religious school time. As a result, the students stay active and engaged in meaningful learning from the moment they arrive in the classroom. It is with this same sense of urgency that I believe the larger Jewish community should embrace and support Kulanu so this proven program can reach all of those in need and be a blessing to all.”
—Robert Epner, Parent