Jewish Funding Community to Address Special Needs

On October 20, the global Jewish funding community will gather in New York City to tackle the issue of special needs at ADVANCE: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funding Conference. Hosted by the Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Funders Network (JFN), Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), the one-day conference will explore funding strategies in North America and abroad to build a more inclusive support system for Jews who are disabled or have special needs. ADVANCE is the first-ever funders conference focused entirely around this issue.

“Hundreds of thousands of Jews in the U.S. with physical and/or mental disabilities must forfeit their Jewish experience because too many of our institutions – day schools, camps, vocational training centers, synagogues – are ill-equipped to accommodate special needs,” said Jay Ruderman, president of The Ruderman Family Foundation. “For a people who value fairness, inclusivity, and continuity, it’s unacceptable that so many of our own are turned away in this manner. At the ADVANCE conference, we hope to inspire collaboration in which private funders, Federations, and professionals can actively bring populations with special needs back into the fold of Jewish life.”

ADVANCE will expose Jewish philanthropists, Federation, and foundation leaders from the U.S., Israel, Australia and the U.K. to this complex and multi-faceted issue, unwrapping “special needs” from a number of vantage points. Because the terms “disabled” and “special needs” can apply to such a broad array of medical conditions (e.g., autism, paralysis, learning disabilities) sizing the population is in and of itself a challenge. An estimated 14 percent of children in North America are defined as special-needs and roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population has a disability. By applying these percentages to the conservatively estimated population size of five million Jews in the U.S., one can say that 1,000,000 Jews in this country alone are disabled in some capacity.

The conference will open with a keynote presentation by global activist Jerry White, Founder of Survivor Corps and an authority on survivorship, followed by presentations from Jerry Silverman and Dvorah Zlochower, a Talmud educator, on inclusivity and Judaism. Breakout sessions will be organized around the major categories of special needs programming: education, camping and youth programs, housing, vocational training, family support and involvement, and engagement with Jewish life. During these sessions, a variety of panels will explore best practices, key trends, research, and funding models that work. A complement of panels will focus on innovative funding approaches and partnership strategies that enable funders to create spheres of influence within the community at-large.

Additional information about the conference, including a full agenda, presenter bios, and a registration page, are available on the Jewish Funders Network website.