Be a Jewish Disability Advocate, This Month and Every Month

Inside Leadership

Be a Jewish Disability Advocate, This Month and Every Month

person with diability in a wheelchair participating in a program/event

At the heart of the Reform Movement’s commitment to the concept of “audacious hospitality” is the belief that we will be a stronger, more vibrant community when we fully integrate the diversity that is the reality – and the future – of modern Jewish life. Annual awareness initiatives such as Jewish Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and Black History Month give us opportunities to strengthen our commitment to social change and, in doing so, to highlight the need for ongoing awareness of underrepresented individuals and groups within our communities – and the values they can bring to them.

Each February, we are encouraged to strengthen our efforts at audacious hospitality by educating ourselves – learning directly from people living with disabilities and experts in the field, as well as reflecting on our own biases and limitations– and to reaffirm our commitment to include and advocate in partnership with fellow Jewish community members with disabilities. In recent weeks, several colleagues have written about celebrating JDAIM in your synagogue, finding hidden holiness in our midst, and ways to make our communities more inclusive. Each of these posts includes practical suggestions to implement in your own synagogue.

With generous support from the Ruderman Family Foundation, we’re furthering disability inclusion work in a number of ways. The new Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center, produced in collaboration with our organizational partners, is chock full of resources and learning materials that are updated regularly. Thanks in part to this critical initiative, a growing number of Reform congregations – including our 27 Exemplar Congregations in particular – are advancing their work in the area of disabilities inclusion. (If your congregation is ready to undertake ongoing, extensive learning in this area, your community, too, can apply to become an Exemplar Congregation.)

Although JDAIM is a time for Jewish institutions to look inward, it also is a great opportunity to look outward and take action.

On February 10, I was honored to join more than 130 Jewish professionals at Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, held each year in Washington D.C. Organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Jewish Federations of North America, this day of advocacy provided a unique opportunity to put our Jewish values into action on behalf of the estimated 48.9 million Americans living with a disability.

Several colleagues and I joined representatives from other New York-based organizations in advocacy meetings, asking three local congressional representatives to commit to support specific pieces of disability-related legislation. I was proud to be part of the URJ’s strong and prominent presence throughout the day and to work in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation.

While on Capitol Hill, I thought about the ways our congregations and camps are advancing disabilities inclusion and exemplifying best practices that align with our tradition’s cherished values. For example, many of them are creating inclusion task forces, hosting regular disability-inclusive Shabbat morning services for families with young children, making their buildings more structurally accessible, and more.

There are countless ways to promote disabilities inclusion, both as an initial foray into inclusion work and as part of a long-term, comprehensive vision: Host an event, implement a practical solution to better welcome individuals with disabilities, or check out what an Exemplar Congregation in your area is doing to see if their strategy might work in your own community.

Tell us: How is your congregation observing JDAIM this year?

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide. For important resources created by top disability experts, visit the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center, created by the Union for Reform Judaism in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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April Baskin, a longtime advocate for Jewish diversity and inclusion, is a graduate of Tufts University, a member of the Selah Leadership Network, and an alumna of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation's Insight Fellowship and Jews United for Justice's Jeremiah Fellowship in Washington, D.C. She most recently served as the vice president of Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism. In addition, she previously served as the national director of resources and training at InterfaithFamily.com and president of the Jewish Multiracial Network.

 

April Baskin
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