Include Jews of all abilities in our community
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If there’s one word rabbis and Jewish community leaders use above all others today when describing the ideal approach toward their fellow Jews, it is inclusivity. Indeed, creating a welcoming environment has become a paramount Jewish value.
In reality, it doesn’t always work out, especially for Jews with disabilities. Despite a great deal of progress, the disabled still face obstacles as they seek to participate fully in Jewish life.
That is why the Jewish Federations of North America four years ago launched Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Each February since then, synagogues, federations and communal agencies have sponsored programs to increase awareness of disability-related issues, as well as tout progress.
This February was no different. In the pages of j. this week and last, we covered events marking JDAM across the Bay Area.
Friendship Circle, Chabad’s popular Big Brother/Big Sister–style program that pairs Jewish teens with special-needs children, kicked off a Friends4Friends campaign to recruit more volunteers and raise awareness.
Rabbi Darby Leigh, one of six deaf clergy members ordained by the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, came to town for a series of talks about the groundbreaking work he does as a full-time congregational rabbi in New Jersey. One small step he instituted at his shul: When he signs the Shema, he uses the words “pay attention” in place of “Hear.”
This past week, 10 local organizations, from Jewish LearningWorks to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, sponsored a special-needs Purim carnival at San Mateo’s Peninsula Temple Beth El (see photos on page 2). The event featured games and activities designed for this most precious population, estimated at around 9,000 children in the Bay Area.
Nationally, JDAM peaked with Jewish Disability Advocacy Day, held Feb. 12 on Capitol Hill, which included meetings with members of Congress and public policy addresses from leading disability rights activists.
Here in the Bay Area, we live in one of the most progressive Jewish communities in the world. There would seem to be no need for lectures on the subject of disability rights.
Yet we are still learning, and we know the task is not completed. There is more to be done to ensure that all Jews, of whatever age and whatever level of ability, are welcome at our sides every step of the way on our Jewish journeys together.
As it says in the Ethics of the Fathers, “Do not disdain any person … for there is no person who does not have his hour.”
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