The Impact of Inclusion: on Jewish Disability Awareness Month

This is a guest post by Shelly Christensen, MA, Program Manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, a program ofJewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. Shelly is also the author of the Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month, a time to unite Jewish communities and organizations for the purpose of raising awareness and supporting meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in every aspect of Jewish life.

It is my hope that, in reading this and one more story (one each week in February), you will gain understanding of the need for inclusion in our community.

Each of us has had experiences with people with disabilities and their families. Some of us have personal experiences within our own family. As we think about the impact of inclusion, I encourage you to think about those experiences.

Consider how inclusion of people with disabilities can impact their lives.

Think of Jonathan, who grew up attending synagogue and participated in the first religious school class for children who had severe autism. He’s now an adult, lives in a group home, and comes to synagogue for Shabbat and the holidays. Sometimes Jonathan shouts out during services — and while some congregants turn around and stare at him for making noise, his rabbi knows that Jonathan is informing him that he forgot to give the page number in the prayer book.

Think of Becca. At Becca’s Bat Mitzvah, her rabbi signed the d’var Torah and the priestly benediction. She also advocated for Becca’s participation at the regional Jewish overnight camp, helping the camp director understand that providing an American Sign Language interpreter would enable Becca to enjoy the camp just like her peers.

Think of David, a young adult with autism who is legally blind. David will tell you that his Bar Mitzvah was the best day of his life. Because of how he learned his Torah portion, completely by ear, his amazing ability to create music was identified. He was mentored by the cantor, and performs at community events. He now reads music, and his parents feel assured that he will have the means to earn a living through his music.

People, organizations and synagogues can have huge affects on the lives of people with disabilities. All of us are capable of being inclusive and helping to eliminate the veil of invisibility that shrouds so many people in our community.

NEXT WEEK: A determined woman is welcomed at a Minneapolis synagogue after years of exclusion.

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For more information about Jewish Disability Awareness Month, or for a calendar of the month’s events, go to www.jfcsmpls.org.

Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) offers information and resources to support Jews with disabilities and their families. The Inclusion Program coordinates community-wide efforts to raise awareness, provide consultation and help Jewish organizations understand how to overcome barriers to facilitate their meaningful participation and involvement for all people. For more information, contact Shelly at 952-542-4838 or schristensen@jfcsmpls.org.

JFCS also offers Caring Connections, a program that provides opportunities for Jewish adults with developmental disabilities to connect with their faith community and take part in Jewish life and learn about holidays and traditions. Caring Connections is a joint effort of JFCS, Jewish Family Service of St. Paul, the St. Paul JCC, and the Sabes JCC.

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