Creating Welcoming, Inclusive, and Supportive Jewish Communities

By Jeremy J. Fingerman

Each February, we observe Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). It’s a time for the greater Jewish community to celebrate our progress, recognize our continued need for growth, and commit to being more welcoming and inclusive.

JDAIM serves an important purpose, but our efforts to improve accessibility and inclusion can’t be limited to one month each year. Year-round, Jewish institutions embrace the long-overdue conversation on inclusion, working to ensure that all Jewish people – regardless of ability, economic status, gender identity, sexuality, and ethnic background – can experience the support, joy, and sense of belonging that characterizes Jewish communal life.

The field of Jewish camp has prioritized this work and has made great headway in modeling how to create inclusive Jewish communities. We believe that a Jewish camp experience benefits every camper and staff member, and we strive to address any and all barriers to full participation in camp programming. We know that people with disabilities and their families simply want what we all want – a place to belong, a place to call (their second) home. We also know that camp cultures are enhanced and enriched when we include and celebrate everyone.

Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) takes great pride in our current Yashar Initiative – a four-year effort made possible through the generosity of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation – to support camps as they strategically address major barriers for participation for those with disabilities. This initiative aspires to significantly improve accessibility, providing funds for capital improvements, professional development, staff training, research, and evaluation.

Next month at FJC’s Leaders Assembly 2020, our 8th biennial convening of the field, more than 800 camp professionals, lay leaders, foundation and federation executives, Jewish educators, and more, will come together to exchange ideas, align strategies, and share insights. Notably, we will offer a ‘disabilities and inclusion’ track for all camps to learn from experts and one another, empowering them to continue bringing important innovations that support inclusion and accessibility to their own camps.

In a world of complex challenges, I am continuously filled with admiration and appreciation for camp professionals who prioritize and persist in creating an atmosphere in which people can feel a deep sense of connection, purpose, and belonging. Working collaboratively with our partners in the field, we aspire to eliminate all barriers to full participation in Jewish camp. We continuously ask ourselves, “Who isn’t here, and why? How can we support them? What positive, practical steps can we take?”

We think of “inclusion” in its broadest and most generous sense. It inspires us to help make Jewish camps more accessible for campers and staff with disabilities and leads us to address other barriers that stand in the way of full engagement in Jewish life. When we cultivate cultures that welcome and include everyone, we build stronger, more effective Jewish communities for today and tomorrow.

May JDAIM inspire all of us to work toward a world in which a month dedicated to inclusion and accessibility is no longer necessary – a world in which it is standard practice to fully welcome and engage every member of our community.

Jeremy J. Fingerman is CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).