Jordan O’Kelley: Creating Art for Special Needs

Jewish Journal | Debra L. Eckerling

Rabbi Jackie Redner and the O'Kelley Family
Rabbi Jackie Redner and the O’Kelley Family. Photo courtesy of Karen Steyr.

Fourteen-year-old Jordan O’Kelley took a unique approach to his mitzvah project, roping in his twin 13-year-old sisters, Rachel and Macey, as well as his parents for additional support.

Jordan had his bar mitzvah in January through Vista Del Mar’s Nes Gadol program, together with four other special-needs teens. Nes Gadol is a b’nai mitzvah and confirmation program for children and teens of all abilities. Rabbi Jackie Redner leads the program and encourages her students to find meaningful projects.

Considered a “twice exceptional” or “2e” student, Jordan has autism and dysgraphia (difficulty or pain with handwriting). He was diagnosed when he was 5 years old. When he was 10, Jordan wrote a book called “O’Kelley Legendary Legends of Legend,” and for his mitzvah project, he adapted the book into monologues elementary and middle school students could perform. He also produced a play as a fundraiser for the organization Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG).

Jordan’s sister Rachel was the assistant editor on the book, and Macey acted as personal assistant, doing whatever needed to be done (which included acting in the production) to create “O’Kelley Legends Monologues.” Jordan worked with casting and directing mentors to stage the play at the Actors Art Theater. He reached out to SENG to make the performance a fundraiser for his mitzvah project.

“Being in Nes Gadol taught me compassion and understanding and to appreciate people for who they are, including myself,” Jordan said. “2e and gifted individuals perceive the world differently. These differences have value and need to be supported. That’s why I wanted to help SENG as part of my mitzvah project.”

“As Jordan’s parents, we feel beyond proud, extremely grateful and are constantly amazed,” his mother, Harri, said. “We feel compelled to follow Jordan’s lead, support his ideas and accelerate his education so that he can grow into his potential. He hopes his book will inspire other 2e students and their families to share their own journeys.”