Disability Awareness

Disability Awareness

With the start of February, so too begins Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Of course, there is nothing uniquely Jewish about disabilities, nor is there a greater need for inclusion in February than in any other month. So why observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2015 this February?

We encourage Reform congregations to observe and participate in this important, Jewish community-wide initiative because it is Jewish to cherish each and every life; it is Jewish to create communities where each person and family is able to learn, pray, find friends, feel a sense of belonging, and reach their full potential; it is Jewish to dispel prejudices and misconceptions that contribute to isolation, underemployment, and lack of human rights. When Reform congregations observe Jewish Disability Awareness Month together in February, we join with other Jews across North America to make February a month to rededicate ourselves to creating a truly inclusive Jewish community.

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, we at the URJ offer a few suggestions to help congregations adopt further awareness and understanding of disabilities. Please feel free to adapt these ideas in ways that fit the needs and culture of your own community – and let us know what your congregation does that might be missing from our list!

by Emily Gergen and Stephen Weitzman

According to Jewish tradition, the number three has special significance implying completeness and stability. Examples of this importance include the expression “and God blessed,” which occurs three times in Genesis; the word “holy,” which is recited three times during kedusha, the priestly benediction which consists of three sections; the three Patriarchs; and the three pilgrimage festivals.

Considering the power of three, we have been on the staff and faculty of Camp Chazak, the URJ’s camp for children who have social adjustment delays, for the past three years. As a result, we have directly witnessed tremendous spiritual growth and personal changes on the part of campers, regardless of whether they were new to the program or were repeat participants.

by Jay Ruderman

Wikipedia defines social justice as, “the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.” This definition can be broken down into three parts: realizing potential, in society, and where they live. For Jewish people with disabilities, each of these parts presents a challenge – and for the rest of us, they present an opportunity.

The full inclusion of people with disabilities in society is a matter of social justice, civil rights, and fairness. Every Jew counts, every Jew has something unique to offer our community, and every Jew is created in the image of God, no matter how they look or express themselves. Approximately 1,000,000 Jews in the United States have some form of disability. Look at that number again: 1,000,000 people, in our community alone. Our job must be to invite them in, not put up barriers to keep them out.

by Nancy Crown

When I was called to meet with a member of my synagogue’s Congregation-Based Community Organizing Committee, I almost declined.  I was asked to think about what the temple could do that it was not already doing. My main reaction was to reflect on the many opportunities for learning, worship, and community that I wasn’t partaking of, due to limited time and a longstanding “outsider” feeling when it comes to religion. Like many others, my upbringing did not include much meaningful participation in the spiritual aspects of Judaism.

My daughter, now 28 years old, has developmental disabilities. She was keenly interested in Judaism as a young child, but as a teen, she began to talk about converting to another religion. By that time, our son was enrolled in school at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, where we were members. We chose a Jewish day school for a number of reasons, including our desire for our son to feel more secure in his Jewish identity than my husband, my daughter, or I had felt. We began lighting candles on Friday nights. I took Hebrew classes.  We attended services, where, at moments, I would feel an achy kind of longing, alongside a feeling of being an outsider. Try as I might, I couldn’t quite find a way in.

by Shayna Simon

My name is Shayna Simon I am 12 years old. I have attended Camp Chazak at URJ Eisner and Crane Lake in Massachusetts for the last 2 summers. This camp is for kids like me that may have some challenges and just need some direction to stay focused and enjoy this wonderful camp experience.

The best way I can describe this camp is "AWESOME" We get to play, swim, sing, cook, eat and laugh together. I especially enjoy being able to share my Jewishness with everyone through prayer & singing. I even got to play my guitar during services. This year will be my last year at Camp Chazak as I age out.