By Marcia P. Neeley
“Throughout theater history, the stage has been a place for people to communicate in different ways,” said Yachad International Director Avrohom Adler. “Performing arts programs encourage people with disabilities to find creative fulfillment while experiencing profound personal growth.”
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Yachad, the leading group for individuals with disabilities in the Orthodox community, has received a record $1 million grant to create the Ralla Klepak Performing Arts Inclusion Initiative. A program of Yachad Chicago, it will provide a broad range of experiential and social opportunities for individuals with disabilities through the performing arts. It will be led by experienced professionals, community volunteers and peer participants. “At Yachad, we’re continually looking for creative ways to include individuals from across the community in our programming. The Ralla Klepak Performing Arts Trust gift allows us to do just that,” said Yachad Chicago’s Director of Development, Elliot Cohen.
Yachad member Naftali Glenner explained, “I like to act. I want to pull the curtain string and go on stage.” Yachad advisor (volunteer) Shulim Knobloch stated, “Our members love to interact with their friends and the community. The Ralla Klepak Performing Arts Inclusion Initiative will enhance Naftali’s life in a way that was previously unavailable. We are also excited to include additional community members in the program. We are so thankful for this opportunity.”
The Ralla Klepak Performing Arts Inclusion Initiative will create a unique space for individuals with special needs and provide both formal and informal education focusing on the performing arts. Those with disabilities will be able to participate in a high-quality performance space, setting the stage for acceptance, understanding and friendship. Yachad members with a range of emotional disabilities, autism and developmental delays, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and other chromosomal disorders will perform and work alongside their typically developing peers.
Ralla Klepak was a legendary Chicago-based attorney whose career accomplishments spanned many areas of the law. For decades, she took on individual civil and criminal cases for people whom she believed were being ill-treated by the legal system, often stating that one of her chief concerns was to try and make sure, in her own words, that “the system worked for everyone or that everyone at least had the opportunity to have the best representation” she could mount.
“The Ralla Klepak Performing Arts Inclusion Initiative will facilitate the inclusion of individuals with all different kinds of abilities across age, socio-economic and religious backgrounds, and facilitate education and participation in performing arts programs,” added Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “All of this from one exceptional woman who understood how the performing arts can allow these adults to shine.”
“It is our community’s responsibility to create opportunities for those with disabilities to have a voice and contribute in their own way. The performing arts allows them to do just that,” said Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane. “We’re grateful that through Ralla Klepak’s generosity, they will have this opportunity.”
To learn more about Yachad and its myriad of programs for people with disabilities, visit Yachad.org.
Marcia Neeley, retired Executive Director, Marketing & Communication, UJA-Federation of New York, serves as a strategic foundation and grants consultant for the Orthodox Union.