Inclusion and the Jewish Community: 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 two more stories (one each week in February), you will gain understanding of the need for inclusion in our community.

There isn’t just one place for inclusion in an organization; inclusion should be incorporated into many aspects. Any programs, activities and services that are offered should be available to everyone. That is why, no matter how far you have come in an effort to be inclusive, there will always be more to do. There will always be needs yet to be met and people whose voices have yet to be heard.

What are the principles of inclusion?

  1. Inclusion should be woven into the fabric of our Jewish community and institutions. Inclusion is not confined to one committee or one area of the synagogue. It applies to every program, every department, every service for people of all ages. Not just for religious school, and b’nai mitzvah, but for adult education, the annual meeting, and all other life cycle occasions.
  2. No one should have to do this alone. We must have partners and people with whom to collaborate on this journey. People with disabilities, rabbis, lay leaders, parents … everyone can work together toward inclusion.
  3. We should do this work WITH people with disabilities and their families, not FOR them. We have to build relationships and be aware of when we are trying to “fix” a situation.
  4. We don’t have to “fix“ a situation. We do have the obligation to work in partnership and collaboration with others to develop a vision and a plan for inclusion.
  5. No matter where your congregation is on the spectrum of inclusion, there are always opportunities to continue the work in new directions.
  6. Assessment is key. Knowing where you/your organization/your congregation is today will help guide you on your journey.
  7. Creating a roadmap or vision for your group is essential; doing so keeps them focused on their goals and provides a way to accomplish them.

NEXT WEEK: We’re all capable of promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities.

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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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