Celebrating 15 Years of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

February marks the 15-year anniversary of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). Founded in 2009, JDAIM – which has now grown into a global movement – holds the mission of uniting Jewish communities worldwide in raising awareness and championing the rights of all Jews to be accepted and included in all aspects of Jewish life.

“JDAIM really ignited the Jewish world. It just resonated. It’s grassroots. So there’s no set mandate on what to do, allowing every organization to take their own steps to prioritize and create events,” Shelly Christensen, co-founder of JDAIM and current senior director at RespectAbility, said of JDAIM’s journey and progress. 

The success of JDAIM, Christensen notes, lies in its ability to transform awareness into action. “The biggest change is that communities are even more aware of disability and mental health inclusion because of JDAIM. It raised awareness, leading to a deeper understanding and implementation of inclusive practices,” she said. 

Now housed within RespectAbility, the JDAIM Program Guide details events held across the month, including webinars, a short film, and interviews with disabled leaders in the Jewish Community. 

Here at home in the Twin Cities, Geri Goldman, library manager at PJ Library and member of Adath Jeshurun Congregation’s inclusion committee, is bringing her traveling Havdalah series to JDAIM.

“We’re excited to be a part of JDAIM this year,” she said. Goldman has hosted Havdalah events in partnership with local synagogues for two years, and is excited to introduce a new concept for February’s event: Young Family Sensory Havdalah. This event, which will take place on Feb. 24, is centered around “creating activities that all children can enjoy, focusing on sensory-friendly options,” Goldman explained.

Motivated not only by her position in the Jewish community but also by her own experience as a mother and teacher of young children.

“I’ve seen firsthand the difference that inclusive programming can make,” Goldman said. “It’s about ensuring that every child feels welcomed and valued.”

The program will include activities like spice-scented Play-Doh and calming jars, providing sensory experiences that are engaging and comforting, while adding traditional Havdalah elements to kid-friendly activities. 

“These activities aren’t just fun; they’re therapeutic, offering children ways to self-regulate and positively engage with their surroundings,” Goldman highlights. Musical calming, coloring books, and sensory jars will also be a part of the event.

However, Goldman also emphasized the importance of promoting accessibility outside of JDAIM, and noted PJ Library’s commitment to having accessible educational materials available in the library.

“Representation matters. We want our books and materials to reflect our community’s diversity, ensuring every child sees themselves in the stories we share,” she said. “I want it to be known throughout the community that we welcome and are happy to make accommodations for families,” highlighting practical measures such as providing interpreters, materials in large print, and ensuring that events are accessible to everyone.

“Inclusion is at the heart of everything we do. By working together, we can create a community that celebrates diversity and actively supports and embraces it.” 

Looking forward, Christensen also noted the importance of ongoing dialogue and action. “We’re looking at 15 years of JDAIM and planning to have meaningful conversations with thought partners and Jewish communities in Minneapolis to assess our progress and identify future strategies for enhancing accessibility and belonging,” she shared.

Christensen hopes that accessibility begins to be understood more comprehensively.

“Full access involves more than just physical accommodations like ramps or accessible restrooms,” she said. “It’s about ensuring that people can participate, are invited to contribute, and the doors are open for them.”

Advocacy, collaboration, and a shared vision for a community where everyone, regardless of ability, finds belonging and contributes to the Jewish Community is recognized as 15 years of JDAIM is celebrated.

“Disability inclusion is not a month; it is 12 months out of the year,” Christensen said. “And the purpose of all of this is to ensure that disabled people, people with mental health conditions, and the people who love them, have full access to the Jewish community.”