Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month: A Primer

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM). Throughout the month we’ll bring you some great stories from advocates, self-advocates, local rabbis, and more. To kick things off, here’s a post by Shelly Christensen of JFCS explaining the origins and current work of JDAM. Enjoy!


Shelly Christensen

Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) is back for the sixth consecutive year. Jewish organizations around North America and Israel put inclusion of people with disabilities and those who love them on the proverbial “front burner” every February.

When JDAM started here in Minneapolis in 2009, some people asked, “Why do we need to have Jewish Disability Awareness Month? Shouldn’t we be mindful of including Jews with disabilities and their loved ones all year long?”

They were right, of course. Nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have some kind of disability. The Jewish community is not exempt from those numbers. We just had a difficult time understanding that there were even Jews who had disabilities, and that many of them wanted to belong to the Jewish community, just like everyone else.

Yet many of those individuals were shut out from community life because of their disability. Disability should never be a reason to exclude someone from participating in his or her community.

When the Jewish Special Education International Consortium, a group of communal special education professionals, met in Minneapolis in 2008, they decided to host their individual conferences on inclusion in the same month, hoping to raise the visibility of their work. Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) was the host agency that year, and has played a significant role in energizing JDAM every year.

jdamEach Jewish organization is invited to participate in planning activities during the month that raise awareness and inspire change throughout the year. The objective is to get members and stakeholders to take a personal role in creating the kind of organization that warmly welcomes and encourages participation by people with disabilities and those who love them.

If you are thinking that this is an issue that doesn’t affect you, you might want to think again. As my friend, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, who sustained a traumatic brain injury 15 years ago, says, “If you’re not a person with a disability now, you probably will be someday.”

That’s hearty food for thought. Perhaps we need one month out of the year to remind ourselves that each of us has limitations of some sort. We must also use that month to remind ourselves that each one of us has the Divine Spark within us and that ought to be enough to remember all year.

Do you have a story about Jewish inclusion? Email [email protected] and we may feature it on the website this month.