Seeing Campers for Who They Are

Inside Leadership

Seeing Campers for Who They Are

Smiling campers in Camp Harlam shirts looking off camera

This year, in recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, I joined Cori Miller, URJ Camp Harlam’s camper care and enrollment manager), in venturing to our nation’s capital to embark on a day of learning and lobbying with nearly 200 other Jewish professionals. The Jewish Federations of North America, along with the Religious Action Center, organized an incredible day on Capitol Hill for Jewish Disability Advocacy Day.

It was humbling and inspiring to sit among disabilities advocates from across the country, coming together for the common purpose of fighting for the rights of our disabled constituents and their families.

After getting a crash course on lobbying and hearing from policy analysts, legislative assistants, and strategists in the world of disability advocacy work, we were ready to fan out into the Capitol building for meetings on the Hill with our Congress people.

But before the advocacy work began, we heard from eight members of Congress for whom this issue is near and dear to their hearts. The most impressive of the bunch was Senator Tammy Duckworth, the junior senator from Illinois, who rolled into the room in her wheelchair. A double amputee, Senator Duckworth lost her legs after her helicopter was shot down during the Iraqi war. She described to us that she uses several different wheelchairs and prosthetic legs to help her ambulate and is grateful to lobbyists like us for helping to fight for her rights so she can roll right onto the floor of the Senate to do her job.

She said, “Every American deserves to be seen for who they are, not for their disability.” 

These words rang in my ears as I thought about how our work at camp is just that – helping children be seen for who they are and their potential, rather than be limited or diminished for their struggles.

We do such holy and important work, and I am so proud that camp is a place that celebrates our individuality and strengths and seeks to accommodate all people who wish to be a part of our beautiful community. And to see how camp fits into the whole tapestry of Jewish advocacy and inclusion is such an inspiration.

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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Lori Zlotoff, LCSW, is the inclusion coordinator at URJ Camp Harlam, an inclusive camp that is part of the FJC Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative. She and her family are members of The Community Synagogue in Port Washington, NY, where she is the executive producer of The Community Synagogue Theater Company. She also has a private practice in Great Neck, NY.

Lori Zlotoff
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