February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide.
By Shelly Christensen
Looking back over the past 10 years, Jewish communities around the world have embraced Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) in February. I never imagined that it would resonate to the extent that it has in Jewish communities of every size, in congregations, at JCCs, Federations, and family service agencies. The synagogue movements participate. We have partnerships with PJ Library, filmmakers and authors. Our partners at the Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism started Jewish Disability Advocacy Day nine years ago.
People frequently ask me how many communities participate in JDAIM. I honestly do not know because we don’t have a way to determine this, save for articles about events and programs that I get in my inbox from Google alerts and internet searches. Beyond that, people email flyers and calendars to me, and I get to see the creativity that you bring to raising awareness and voicing expectations.
Inclusion means every person gets to determine where, how, and when he or she participates in the life of the Jewish community. Jewish communal organizations must commit to participation in all programs, events, and offerings to people with disabilities. Organizations have to ask people, “What’s important to you?” and commit to supporting them in their individual Jewish journeys. People with disabilities can and should make decisions about how they participate in Jewish life.
Let us change our thinking. Don’t do things for people with disabilities; do them with people with disabilities. JDAIM is a time to teach our organizations that Inclusion (with a capitol “I”) is simply treating people as individuals, not as a group of “those” people whose needs can be met through special programs or occasional visits to synagogues, or community events.
Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month is a renewal of our commitment to supporting people with disabilities to belong. Let the momentum take us through the next 11 months and build a genuinely inclusive community.
Someday we won’t convene as a community to raise awareness about including people with disabilities. Let’s look forward to the day when we have eliminated obstacles to belonging to the Jewish community. On that day, we will know the true meaning of being created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of the Divine.
[For important resources created by top disability experts, visit the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center, created by the Union for Reform Judaism in partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation.]
Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the CEO of Inclusion Innovations, the co-founder of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, author of Jewish Community Guide to Inclusion of People with Disabilities, and a frequent speaker on issues of inclusion and disability. She directed the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, an award-winning initiative that supported inclusion in all Jewish organizations.
Cross-posted on URJ Inside Leadership Blog