Inclusion

Inclusion

by Shelly Christensen

“There comes a moment when you realize that what you’re advocating for is more than just accommodations. You’re really advocating for someone’s quality of life. That’s the moment you realize you won’t give up.” (Dyslexia Training Institute)

Sometimes Facebook produces surprises, like this quote I recently found while scrolling mindlessly through my news feed. These words, from the Dyslexia Training Institute, gave expression to the significance of the seventh annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) in February.

In 2009, the Jewish Special Education International Consortium held the first Jewish Disability Awareness Month in a handful of communities in the United States. Our intent was to elevate awareness that Jewish institutions were not providing meaningful Jewish experiences to Jews with disabilities. We saw JDAM as a way to come together to deliver a common message to our own community that there are indeed Jews who have disabilities, and many of them are invisible in Jewish life because of those disabilities.

Today, JDAM is recognized in Jewish communities across North America, as well as in Britain and Israel. The JDAM logo, a Magen David of intertwined blue and gold ribbons, illustrates how the inclusion of people who have disabilities must be woven into all aspects of Jewish life.

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.

The Journal of Youth Engagement is an online forum of ideas and dialogue for those committed to engaging youth in vibrant Jewish life and living. Join the discussion and become a contributor.

By Lisa Friedman

When I first began my tenure at Temple Beth-El, I met David, a student in grade 5 with a significant learning disability and attention issues. Members of the Child Study Team at David’s public school suggested that David not attempt to learn a foreign language as it would be too overwhelming for him. This wasn’t acceptable to his parents, who wanted David to both learn and love Hebrew so that he could become a bar mitzvah.  We met David’s academic needs by individualizing his instruction, and his bar mitzvah was a highly meaningful experience.  But for me, this is where David’s story begins.  I always knew that David could learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah; we just needed to meet his needs appropriately.