This past Sunday night, December 4, I was privileged to help organize, attend and speak at The Bayit Association’s first-ever joint info session and forum with our new partner, Ohel. The unique session was aimed at parents interested in learning more about the new Bayit-Ohel partnership and their childrens’ eligibility for the homes for special needs individuals currently under development.
Despite advertising in this paper over the past month, as well as posts on parent forums, chats and text groups, and some personal reminders, my Bayit co-founders, Bassie Taubes and Adam Chill, and I, had no idea how many people to expect. Would the room be full or empty? Who would show up?
We are aware of at least 100+ families in the Northern New Jersey Jewish community that have children in their teens, 20s and 30s with diagnoses of IDD (intellectual or developmental disability) and autism. We also know that every one of them, including ourselves, are all deeply concerned with the question of where their children will live when they are no longer able to care for them. But would they show up on a Sunday night to learn about the Bayit Association’s new partnership with Ohel, our two current properties and future homes, and about all the steps needed to get there? We just didn’t know.
For some parents, even contemplating a future where they are not able to care for their child or house them is absolutely terrifying and overwhelming. The easiest short-term strategy is to just stay home, do nothing, hope for the best, and postpone the inevitable as far into the future as possible. It is so easy, and understandable to feel this way.
Thankfully, our fears of low attendance were put to rest quickly as we welcomed into Teaneck’s Congregation Zichron Mordechai’s lovely sanctuary approximately 50 parents and caregivers representing approximately 35 families, some with multiple children with IDD and autism. We even had to temporarily dismantle the shul’s mechitza to allow everyone to fit comfortably. We also had regrets from an additional 10 families who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it on Sunday night, who requested additional information.
Bassie Taubes, my co-founder and also the rebbetzin of our host shul, opened the program by welcoming everyone and explaining briefly how frustrating it was for her and other parents like my wife and I to attend multiple meetings about housing over the past 10-15 years that led nowhere. She also described briefly how The Bayit Association got started when she and I, joined shortly after by Adam Chill, made the decision to move ahead together, launch The Bayit Association, start buying and developing homes, and fundraising to support all of this.
Bassie then introduced me and I had the opportunity to introduce myself to the many parents there and explain a bit more about what motivated us. Once we realized in late 2019/early 2020 that we had to take action, and learned how long it takes for a home to be purchased, plans developed and approved, permits granted, construction started and finished, etc—it’s easily a two to three year process minimum—we not only had to take action but we had to get started as soon as possible with purchasing homes and beginning to develop them, and learn as much as we could about New Jersey-specific laws and guidelines regarding housing for adults with special needs.
Just as I started The Jewish Link because I felt strongly that our growing Northern New Jersey Jewish community needed its own paper, a similar impulse pushed me to co-found The Bayit Association. There is a very real and growing need in our community for housing solutions for our kids whose parents and siblings will simply not be able to care for them forever. We had to come up with a solution; we had to do something, so we did…and yet we still have a long way to go.
I noted that The Bayit Association currently owns two homes in Teaneck and we are already thinking seriously about future homes. The first home in Teaneck is under construction and we are hoping to finish construction within the year. We are currently working on plans for the second home. I also explained that we knew early on that we knew nothing about billing, Medicaid, running residences and housing programs, etc … and we needed a partner. We met and spoke with a good number of programs, spoke to many people, and learned so much about the field of housing, licensing and other requirements.
I described how excited we are about our recent decision to partner with Ohel in the management and oversight of our first homes. Ohel, which recently became licensed in New Jersey, is a leader in New York State and operates more than 40 homes and apartments. A good number of their key senior staff live in New Jersey as well, and we believe strongly that they are incredibly motivated to make the relationship work and be a trusted partner for us and the families they hope to serve in New Jersey.
Before I turned the floor over to the Ohel team, I told the gathered parents that we still needed to raise $2+ million to complete the construction and renovation of the first home, to pay back loans we took out for the homes, and to renovate the second home … and to begin thinking about the next homes. Government funding should be able to cover the annual operating costs of every home we build and open, but the government provides almost no money for the costs of purchasing and renovating homes. I extended the challenge to the parents (and to our generous readers and our community) that we will need help with purchasing and renovating future homes and I invited all to help us build these homes. (Please email me at [email protected] if you would like to help on this front.)
I then introduced Ohel’s CEO of more than 26 years, David Mandel, who proceeded to point out the key Ohel staff present, such as Ohel COO Adam Lancer, senior housing coordinator Lee Niren, and community services director Lisa Sheinhouse. David then discussed Ohel’s history in New York State with housing for adults with IDD/autism, as well as adults with mental illness. He talked about his and Ohel’s long experience in speaking with parents, hearing their hopes, dreams and fears for their children, and building true homes for them.
“When meeting with parents of men and women with developmental disabilities, men and women with psychiatric disabilities,” David said, “I always asked them, ‘What would you like for your son or daughter?’ And the response universally was the following … For my son or daughter, we would like a home, we would like a good day program or a job … and we’d like them to have friends. Over and over we hear the same three things … They all wanted the same three things that we all want.”
David also discussed Ohel’s focus on serving the Jewish community and providing housing options to over 500 men and women today in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Five Towns. He discussed how Ohel’s homes are run in accordance with halacha and that residents are expected to abide by the rules of the home, regardless of their observance level outside of the home.
“The New Jersey relationship conversation is not new to us at Ohel,” explained David. “We have been working with and meeting with New Jersey’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) for quite some time to get our license to operate housing … and we’re ready to go … we’ve committed staff, and we’ve discussed this with a long range plan. We’ve done housing for 40 years. And we look forward to doing it to only one standard … If we can’t do things professionally and first class, we don’t want to do it. That’s our goal.”
David then opened the floor to questions, which came from all corners of the room on a range of topics such as:
How to make sure that the adult children would be eligible for housing?
How would adults requiring much more intensive supervision be cared for?
How many adults would be allowed in a home currently by the State of New Jersey?
Will all of the homes be fully licensed group homes?
With the need so large, how will Bayit-Ohel be able to meet the needs of everyone?
How will Ohel determine who is eligible for the first home?
Can a family raise money for a home and be guaranteed a spot for their child?
We did our best to answer each and every question raised, although we weren’t able to answer everything fully, and we encouraged the parents to follow up individually with each of us, if needed. Ohel’s staff also indicated that they will be looking to hold a Shabbos retreat and other family support programs such as a challah bake or something similar with a goal of getting to know the New Jersey families and to start identifying potential clusters of adults who may be a good match for the first homes.
Who are the parents and caregivers who showed up?
Geographically, they represented every community in the Northern New Jersey area, ranging from West Orange, Passaic and Clifton to Teaneck, Englewood, Bergenfield and Fair Lawn. The majority of the parents had children ranging in age from late teens to their 30s. Every family that came was interested in a housing solution for their child or children.
Although the majority were parents of sons with IDD, we made a number of quick introductions between the parents of young women who did not know each other prior to Sunday night, and it’s our hope that some of these young women will ultimately form the core of our first women’s residences and apartments.
One attendee emailed me after the meeting: “Tonight was raw and hopeful at the same time. Your vision is inspiring and I hope you can really make it happen … May Hashem help you with your vision.”
To this attendee and to every parent we hope to help over the next five to 15 years, I say: “Amein…and from your mouth to God’s ears.” I, too, hope and pray we will succeed.
By Moshe Kinderlehrer/
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link