JDAIM 2020 and the Two Pillars of an Inclusive Jewish Community

Inside Leadership

JDAIM 2020 and the Two Pillars of an Inclusive Jewish Community

Chalk drawings of arrows pointing forward as if it to indicate progress

People with disabilities and mental health conditions, and those who love them, just want what everyone else wants – to belong.

We are reminded in B’reishit 1:26 that all of us are created in God’s image. It doesn’t say “only some people are created in God’s image”; it says that each one of us has a place to belong, just by being human. When you meet someone who lives with a disability or mental health condition and you look into their eyes and see yourself reflected there, you will know that you both share something precious and holy.  

February 2020 marks the eleventh time Jewish communities around the world will join together to recognize Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). JDAIM is a catalyst, nudging us to examine our beliefs and attitudes and how they unintentionally shut people out of Jewish life. JDAIM has illuminated our path, replacing actions that cause pain with ones that support people to share their gifts and talents and to practice Judaism how, where, and with whom they choose.

The result is that Reform congregations have embraced inclusion all year long, in many ways.

With JDAIM 2020, we advance the two pillars of an inclusive community: the spirit of belonging and the structure of inclusion. Belonging is something we all want in our lives; inclusion focuses on what our organizations can do to foster that sense of belonging. 

As you bring JDAIM to your synagogue and community, ask yourself: What does belonging mean to me? After you’ve thought about it, ask the same question at all your JDAIM events, and listen with an open heart to peoples’ responses.

May we see the day when all people feel that precious sense of belonging in Jewish life.

Ken y’hi ratzon, may it be God’s will. And in the words of the great Jewish disability and civil rights champion, Rabbi Lynne F. Landsberg, z’l, may it be our will, as well.

Free Resources for JDAIM and Beyond

  • Download the 2020 JDAIM Program Guide, created by Inclusion Innovations. This is the official JDAIM resource guide.
  • Jewish Learning Venture's Whole Community Inclusion has created three years of lesson plans based on Jewish values about disability inclusion to use for pre-K through grade 12 during JDAIM.
  • Matan has created JDAIM-specific lesson plans for students in grades K- 2, 3-5, and middle school day and congregational programs. Lesson plans guide educators in fun learning experiences that highlight inclusion and belonging through Jewish values.
  • The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has many activities that cover different aspects of inclusion in synagogues and agencies including Jewish values, community advocacy, inspiring and empowering adults and teens, employment, and advocacy with and by children.
  • Gateways has free resources for Shabbat and Jewish holidays that are effective when working with all types of learners. These are organized by units, like as holidays, and type, like social stories.
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Shelly Christensen, MA, literally wrote the books on inclusion of people with disabilities: her new book, From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities and Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities. A popular speaker and leader in the field of disability inclusion and spirituality, Shelly co-founded Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) in 2009 and serves as its organizer. She also co-founded the Jewish Leadership Institute on Disabilities and Inclusion at the University of Delaware. 

Shelly has co-chaired Union for Reform Judaism disability committees and presented at numerous URJ Biennials, as well as conferences of both Jewish and disability organizations. She directed the award-winning innovative Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities in Minneapolis for 13 years. She is immediate past president of the Religion and Spirituality Division of AAIDD and is recognized as a fellow for her work in the disability field.

Her writing is featured in numerous blogs and articles, and she is currently co-authoring a children’s book about Jewish inclusion. Shelly and her husband Rick are parents of three adult sons, one of whom was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

Shelly Christensen, MA

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