Walking the Walk: Make Inclusion a Reality

Inside Leadership

Walking the Walk: Make Inclusion a Reality

Earlier this month, in preparation for the Religious Action Center's a four-day L'Taken Social Justice Seminar for teens, I spent an hour and a half with one of the 30 students I would be bringing with me to Washington, D.C., for what I knew would be an amazing experience. This is a student with dyslexia, so I wanted to ensure that she felt prepared to encounter the content and would not feel overwhelmed by the pace of the program and the often chaotic nature of the various activities.

I didn’t think twice about it, really - at least not until she reminded me. She told another member of our staff, who popped in to say hello that I was “so great” for “giving up” my time to make sure she was ready.

Gave up? Trust me. I gave up nothing.

What a gift to watch her eyes light up when I explained that one of the goals of this weekend was to teach teens to advocate.

“You know,” I explained, “like the way you tell someone that you need them to go slower or read something again because you have dyslexia. You advocate for yourself all the time.”

I explained that our weekend would be focused on learning all about what it means to advocate for those we care about and for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves.

“So you will be in a place surrounded by people who will be proud of you for speaking up for yourself,” I reassured her.

She glowed.

While I realize that this kind of work doesn’t come naturally to everyone, I often take my own efforts for granted. I am always surprised when I hear stories like this one: The program director and I were chatting on the first morning, and he shared that another congregation sent a student, who is typically provided with an aide for support at regional youth events, to this program without support. Why? Because it wasn’t in their budget - and they didn’t share this in advance with the program staff, who would have readily offered financial support. Rather, it was mentioned it as an aside once the program was underway when it became clear that the student needed additional support.

I was again reminded of the significance of our inclusive approach when a friend and staff member shared something she had said about me: “Lisa doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She spent an hour an a half with one student to prep just days before she had to be 'on' for four days straight with 30 of them.”

OK, it’s lovely to receive such a compliment -but more importantly, it’s just so critical to me that others know that inclusion isn’t always difficult. We just have to do it. We just need to have the conversations, ask the questions, and try our best to anticipate the what-ifs.

I believe deeply in inclusion, so I make it a priority. You can make inclusion a priority, too.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. Make inclusion a priority at your congregation by downloading your free copy of the 2016 Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month Guide now.

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Lisa Friedman is the education co-director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This position includes overseeing an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training. She blogs at Removing the Stumbling Block.

Lisa Friedman

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