Making a Difference in One Life

A congregation, and a community, come together to help improve one teen’s life at Congregation Beth Sholom

Providence Monthly Magazine ·

The “mayor’’ of the East Side has his ramp. Let us rejoice. My faith in humanity is restored. An affable and courageous young man named David Goodman can now enjoy kiddushes on the lower level of Congregation Beth Sholom, the Orthodox Jewish synagogue at the corner of Camp Street and Rochambeau Avenue. He’s been a member since his family moved to the neighborhood a few years ago after his father, Jeremy, got a job as executive director of the Roger Williams Park Zoo. The Goodman’s other claim to fame is that they live in the lime green house on Elmgrove Avenue formerly occupied by Governor Gina Raimondo. That house has a ramp, too – installed after David, who gets about in a wheelchair, moved in so he could live comfortably and happily, which is all anyone really wants.

Last April, I wrote a column about how nice it would be to install a ramp on the synagogue’s lower level, where members also attend dinners, festivals, parties and other events that bring people together to chat about their kids and jobs and everything in between. David appreciated that the upper level was accessible to wheelchairs but was frustrated by the limitations down below.

I wrote about how four burly men would carry David and his wheelchair down a flight of stairs after Saturday services. In time, that became too dangerous. So David had to remain topside while Jeremy and his wife, Marina, and their other children, Jack, 14, and Dina, 11, took turns going up and down the steps to keep him company. That was a tolerable arrangement, but not a compassionate one, especially for someone who has faced more challenges in his 17 years than most will experience in a lifetime.

David was born with cerebral palsy, autism and cognitive challenges. He’s an affable guy, affectionately called the “mayor’’ of the neighborhood by his mom and other admirers because he loves being around people and talking to them. David can read and write, and he also has a great memory. But he can’t walk on his own. He needs his wheelchair to see the world.

About a year ago, Marina and other members of the congregation launched a campaign to raise money to pay for an accessible entrance. Another selling point was that it would also benefit parents with little ones in strollers and older members. The results are in, and I’m happy to report that the congregation collected a whopping $27,000. “We’re thrilled,’’ says Marina. “You never know what to expect. This is quite a happy surprise.’’

Contributors included family, friends, good-hearted Providence residents and the John D. and Katherine A. Johnston Foundation, established in 1928 to help improve the lives of physically disabled children and adults. Among the East Siders who donated were Jonah and Rashmi Licht, both doctors; Judy and Jay Rosenstein; Dr. Farrel and Barbara Klein; Dr. Howard Mintz; and Grace Novick. Manocher Norparvar, another East Sider, donated his time by drawing up blueprints for the project. This kind of generosity, to be honest, doesn’t happen often, so David clearly is special.

In December, the congregation unveiled the new entrance during a Hannukkah party with the New England Yachad, which is part of the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. David was there. So was his family and all the other people who adore him. He was gabbing with everyone, as usual.

“I just want to thank the community for contributing to this project,” said Rabbi Barry Dolinger, of Congregation Beth Sholom. “It was a large collaborative effort and a moral imperative. Judaism is largely about learning to care for the other.  A congregation that isn’t fully inclusive is fully broken, and I couldn’t think of a better time than Hannukkah – the commemoration of the rededication of our national Temple in Jerusalem – to dedicate this entrance to our synagogue.” 

David is a story for these turbulent times. All is not lost. Goodness can prevail.

Elizabeth Rau can be reached at erau1@verizon.net.

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