Festive Hanukkah at a home for the intellectually disabled

Doug Jarett and Stacy Jarett Levitan light the candles for the first night of Hanukkahat the Strauss/Actman group home in Wynnewood.
Doug Jarett and Stacy Jarett Levitan light the candles for the first night of Hanukkahat the Strauss/Actman group home in Wynnewood. (RYAN S. GREENBERG / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 09, 2012

Five men with intellectual disabilities celebrated the first night of Hanukkah on Saturday evening at the Strauss/Actman house in Wynnewood.

Roasted chicken, potato latkes, applesauce, and salad were on the dinner menu, followed by jelly doughnuts for dessert.

Leon Adler, 63, had no hesitation when asked what he liked best about Hanukkah. "Potato latkes and jelly doughnuts," said Adler, who has lived at the Strauss/Actman house for 16 years.

Ensuring that their adult children with special needs could enjoy such simple Jewish holiday pleasures was one of the reasons a group of parents founded the Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence, which operates the Wynnewood group home, said Stacy Jarett Levitan, executive director.

When the organization, which is nonsectarian, was founded in 1987, it was hard to find places that offered Jewish programming for special-needs individuals.

"In some places they were being made fun of" for not participating in a non-Jewish holiday, Levitan said. "The parents were pretty upset to think that this is the place my child is going to be living for the rest of his life."

Judith Creed Homes also operates the Samuel Bernstein House in Elkins Park, and the Dr. Elaine Ominsky House in Northeast Philadelphia. The nonprofit organization, which has 70 clients, also has a program in the Presidential City apartment complex on City Avenue near the Schuylkill Expressway.

Adler and his housemates, with ages ranging from 30 to 65, keep a busy schedule. They work and have active social lives. Adler is retired but helps in the lunch program at the Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood. Doug Jarett, 45, Levitan's brother, works in a library. Seth Ruttenberg, 30, and Alex Fischer, 32, package candy in Trevose. Joel Weiner, 65, repairs jewelry.

Before dinner, conversation bounced from a Saturday afternoon trip to a theater in Pitman in South Jersey - where some of them saw A Classic Christmas, a musical revue of Christmas specials - to bowling planned for Sunday with "buddies" from St. Joseph's University.

The Pitman show included Hanukkah songs, Adler said. Jews around the world will mark each new day of the eight-day festival, also known as the Festival of Lights, by lighting one more candle in a traditional nine-branch candelabrum known as the hanukkiah or menorah.

"It's not a huge holiday in the Jewish calendar," Levitan said. "They just really like lighting the candles, having a festive time, eating latkes."


Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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