Resolution in Support of Access to Lifelong Jewish Learning for Jews with Disabilities

Adopted by the 71st URJ Biennial 

A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the Holy One, Blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human and each one of us is unique. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

The Torah states that each of us is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, (Genesis 1:27) and describes the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers to their home. Yet, there are Jews with physical, developmental, emotional, intellectual and other disabilities who do not have the opportunities to participate in the richness of Reform Jewish life because multiple barriers still exist in attitudes and access.

When those barriers are eliminated, many Jews with disabilities find warmth, welcome and a sense of belonging to their Reform Jewish community. As Torah teaches us, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind (Leviticus 19:14).”

Historically, people with disabilities have been regarded in light of visible impairments such as physical, communication and sensory disorders. The Reform Movement recognizes that people can have disabilities that are not visible, including but not limited to autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, executive functioning disorders and mood disorders. Regardless of whether a disability is apparent or not apparent, our Movement understands that because each person is unique, accommodations must be able to meet their needs so that they can participate in personally meaningful opportunities.

The Union for Reform Judaism has worked for decades to bring people with disabilities into Jewish life. The Lehiyot initiative, begun in the 1980s, focused on making synagogue buildings accessible to people with physical disabilities. Awareness throughout our Movement of the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities was raised over the years by Biennial resolutions (including the 1981 Resolution on Disabled Persons), the work of the Department of Jewish Family Concerns, the Task Force for Access to Lifelong Jewish Learning under the auspices of the Joint Commission on Lifelong Jewish Learning, Biennial programming, conferences,resource pages on the URJ website, and more. The URJ also played a leading role in the creation of Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Today, URJ camps, HUC-JIR, and other institutions and arms of our Movement continue working to strengthen inclusivity for people with disabilities.

The CCAR has also long recognized the importance of including people with disabilities in every facet of Jewish life. In its 1983 Resolution on People with Disabilities, the CCAR called on each rabbi to exhort his/her congregation or institution to provide for the needs of people with  disabilities and specifically recommended the creation of adequate parking outside the synagogue, unhindered access to places within the synagogue such as the bima, and the formation of a synagogue task force to advocate for awareness of architectural and attitudinal issues concerning people with disabilities.

Despite all of these efforts, we know that more can and must be done to build a more inclusive Reform Movement. We must ensure that our buildings and facilities and programming are  accessible to all people with apparent and not apparent disabilities, our demeanor is welcoming, and our language is appropriate – including using “person first language” that puts the person before the disability (ie. referring to a “person with a disability” rather than a “disabled person”).Then all Jews, regardless of ability, will have the opportunity for meaningful participation in the richness of Reform Judaism.

Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism:

  1. Affirms that access to a Jewish education, worship at the congregation of one’s choosing, summers spent at one of our camps, attendance at a day school, making Jewish friends and becoming leaders of the Reform Movement should not be limited by disability; 

  2. Calls upon its congregations and institutions to embrace the vision of a Reform Jewish Movement that spiritually, physically and socially welcomes, includes, accommodates and supports all children and adults living with disabilities and their families by providing lifelong learning in all aspects of Jewish communal life; 

  3. Commits to creating and sustaining welcoming communities of meaningful inclusion, enabling and encouraging people with disabilities and their families to participate fully in Jewish life in a way that promotes a sense of personal belonging for all individuals; and 

  4. Encourages its institutions and affiliates to adopt Person First language (e.g. child with autism rather than autistic child) in all oral and written communication and publications.