Synagogue provides accessible viewing for parades


Maleigh Crespo

Parade-goers enjoy the parade on both sides of the fence. The partition and balcony provide a safe and enjoyable experience of the parade.

Maleigh Crespo, Design Chief

Krewe of VIPs is a krewe open to community members with disabilities or special needs and their families. From the safety of VIP Balcony, an enclosed platform built upon the steps of Touro Synagogue, Krewe of VIPs is able to watch the parades go by.

The synagogue sits on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and General Pershing Street and is one of the oldest synagogues in the country.

Krewe of VIPs is just one of their contributions to accessible programming.

The synagogue hosts many events for the community because they see a future with greater impact driven by improved accessibility, educational opportunities, and programming for their congregants and guests, according to their website. 

The Krewe of VIPs project was founded by Juan Gershanik over 12 years ago and has been in partnership with Touro Synagogue from the beginning.

“We wanted to provide a place where children with disabilities could watch the parades, which obviously felt like a need,” Gershanik said. 

In the beginning, the VIP balcony was only available to children with disabilities and their families, according to Gershanik. However, the krewe has since expanded to people of all ages. And many attendees have grown up watching the parades from the VIP balcony. 

Matthew Lutz, 27, is one of those people. His mother, Anne Lutz, said they’ve been going since the program started.

“It’s wonderful because it’s a nice, safe place where you can go, and you can see the parade,” she said. 

Ricky Hernaez, who has been attending with his son Ross for five years, said he was more excited than his son when the synagogue reopened Krewe of VIPs after not having the event for two years, due to the pandemic. 

“Being a full-time caregiver for him, it’s difficult for me to take him anywhere, but this is a safe space,” he said.

In addition to providing a safe viewpoint of the parades, the synagogue also provides attendees free food and public restrooms.

Single mother Laura Reyon said that since her son was diagnosed with autism, she’s always felt like the oddball out. 

Reyon said she feels grateful for the kindness of the people of the synagogue. “I didn’t know organizations like this existed,” she said.“I finally feel welcomed and not judged or frowned upon.” 

This was the first year Reyon and her son attended the event. Reyon said she was most appreciative of the fencing around the viewing platform, as it would be too dangerous for her son to be in the regular parade route.

“I am eternally grateful I found a forever home for him to watch the parades because before, I wouldn’t bring him,” Reyon said, “It’s not safe for him. Due to his special needs, he can’t be out with the regular public.”

Since its start, the program has allowed more than 300 children and their families to watch the parades.

“We recognize the importance of every human being in this town, and we all can pitch together to try and improve their quality of life,” Gershanik said.