December 13, 2013, San Diego, CA. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are joining with the Ruderman Family Foundation to launch the Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Initiative. This new partnership was announced today at the URJ's Biennial conference in San Diego. This initiative aims to improve attitudes about inclusion and disabilities among community leaders and clergy, Jewish professionals, organizational leaders, and congregants, and to ensure full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities and their families in every aspect of Reform Jewish life.
The nearly 900 synagogues of the Reform Movement are invited to join a network of congregations, the Active Learning Network, which offers opportunities to share ideas, inspiration, and best practices with one another and learn from leaders in the field of inclusion and those with demonstrated success in this area. Topics include eliminating misconceptions about physical and emotional disabilities, creating congregational inclusion committees, and forging partnerships with other congregations and organizations. Legislative advocacy to fortify equal protections under the law and broader inclusion in society for people living with disabilities is a key part of the partnership strategy as well.
Congregations ready to take on a process of intensive learning and creative change will pursue certification as Ruderman Congregations of Merit in Inclusion. These congregations will work directly with URJ faculty and leaders in inclusion education to develop projects and strategies uniquely suited to their communities.
In announcing the new program, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the URJ president, said, "As we learn when God says to Samuel, 'Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,' we must all look deep within our own hearts and those of others so that we ensure that all of our venues are welcoming. The Reform Movement is unequivocally committed to accessibility, acceptance, and accommodation. This new partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation will allow us to create a network of synagogues that will model best practices not only for our Movement, but for the broader Jewish community. Only then will our congregations come to be recognized as truly enduring, safe spiritual homes which more and more people will want to support and join."
"The Ruderman Family Foundation is proud to partner with the largest religious stream in our Jewish community, in leading the way towards a more inclusive Jewish life for all," said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. "We believe that a more inclusive community is an important step in becoming a more socially just community, one that is fairer, more welcoming and ultimately more attractive for future generations."
In this partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation, the Reform Movement seeks to bolster its inclusion efforts. Both the URJ and the Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. have, for many years, advocated and developed resources to ensure equal access for all and to facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. Indeed, The RAC's Bernard and Audre Rapoport L'Taken Seminars bring nearly 2,000 Jewish teens from coast to coast for seminars on advocacy skills training, each of which includes legislative advocacy efforts to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
The RAC is at the forefront of advocacy efforts and building support for disability rights legislation both on Capitol Hill and through educational outreach to congregations and community leaders.
Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues said: "Through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, we have built strong relationships with the leaders of a wide range of faith groups and advocates for the civil rights of people with disabilities. We are exploring the shared commitment to make accessible life universal within our own faith communities, as well as in the private and the public sectors. We are working to remove physical barriers, and more importantly, to develop universal attitudes of welcome and inclusion."
The initiative, slated for three years, is being funded at a level of $600,000. The first $25,000 of this initiative was earmarked toward making the 2013 URJ Biennial the most inclusive and accessible conference ever held by the URJ.
About the Ruderman Family Foundation
The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of each other is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Guided by our Jewish values, we support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy. Our core areas of interest: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide. The Foundation provides funding, leadership and expertise in both the U.S. and Israel, with offices in both countries, while it engages a global dialogue on its blog at zehlezeh.wordpress.com. For more information about our programs, partners and grantees, please visit RudermanFoundation.org.
About the Union for Reform Judaism
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is a dynamic network of congregations, lay leaders, clergy and professionals across North America. Our progressive,
inclusive approach unites thousands of years of Jewish tradition and values with modern Jewish experience to strengthen Judaism today and for future
generations. Through programs, information and networking opportunities provided by the URJ, our nearly 900 member congregations enhance their capacity to build and expand community, deepen Jewish learning, energize worship, pursue social justice and develop inspired leadership.