Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month

Named one of the URJ’s 27 Exemplar Congregations, Temple Sinai has been promoting disability awareness and inclusion long before the concept gained popularity.

Denise Sherer Jacobson

Rather than planning separate programming for people with disabilities, take a look at what your community already offers and view it through an inclusive lens. Ask, “What can we do to make this more inclusive?”

Cantor Faryn Kates Rudnick
welcome written in sand on the beach

As Jews, we know all people are created in the image of God, but seeing that Divine presence doesn’t happen simply because we wish it to be so. It takes intentionality to view each person, regardless of his or her differences, as unique and holy.
 

Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, L.C.S.W. and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner

While I realize that this kind of work doesn’t come naturally to everyone, I often take my own efforts for granted. I believe deeply in inclusion, so I make it a priority. You can make inclusion a priority, too.

Lisa Friedman

The new Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month Guide provides many resources and ideas to assist your congregation in programming, whether in your own organization or as community-wide initiatives.

Shelley Christensen

The leaders of Temple Beth Torah, a community that always has held inclusion and acceptance as core tenets, realized a few years ago that we were not doing a good job of welcoming those who face physical, emotional, or cognitive challenges. We recognized, too, that by excluding even one family member from participating in Jewish life, we were effectively excluding the entire family. Including all who wish to join in the life of the synagogue enriches each of us, so our lack of welcome was painful for too many families, which in turn hurt our congregation and the broader Jewish community.

Eva Rubin Steen

I recently heard about a beautiful woman who was known for, well, being beautiful. She was accustomed to being stared at and was repeatedly told, by strangers and loved ones alike, just how beautiful she was. While flattering, this constant focus on her appearance left her feeling judged solely on her looks, with no one seeing past her beauty to learn about her intelligence, her experiences, or her other contributions to society. As the woman grew older, she continued to receive acknowledgments of her beauty, but they were less frequent and less intrusive – until she developed ALS and was confined to a wheelchair. As in her youth, people stared at her – and as in her youth, it didn’t feel good. No one saw past her disability to learn about her intelligence, her experiences, or her true contributions to society. With some disabilities, visibility can, at times, be valuable as a means to increase awareness and prompt important discussions about disabilities and inclusion. However, we have to be able to see past the disability to learn about the person behind it. We must learn to see disabilities as just one part of an individual’s identity without letting the disability define who she is or what she can do.

Cori Miller

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 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.