Join Us in February for Jewish Disability Awareness Month
by Shelly Christensen, MA
Inclusion Innovations, LLC., Minnetonka, Minnesota
Co-Chair, URJ Committee for Access to Lifelong Jewish Education
Excerpted from Torah at the Center
“Good intentions alone not accompanied by action are without value, as it is the action which makes the intentions so profound.” –Chasidic Master Yehudi HaKadosh
February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM).The Jewish International Special Education Consortium started promoting JDAM in 2009, fueled in part by programs such as the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities and the Council for Jews with Special Needs in Phoenix. The mission of JDAM is to unite Jewish communities and organizations for the purpose of raising awareness and supporting meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in every aspect of Jewish life.
JDAM promotes the idea that living a Jewish life is not dependent on one’s ability but rather on one’s desire to live Jewishly in the world. The number of congregations and communities recognizing Jewish Disability Awareness Month grows each year. Jews with disabilities and their families are no longer missing from the snapshot of Jewish life. Many people who were once on the margins of Jewish life are now deeply involved in synagogues and Jewish institutions as members, professionals, volunteers, leaders, students and worshippers.
JDAM events can inspire, motivate and educate the community. Activities can be simple but very meaningful, such as including a statement on your website and printed materials inviting people to contact the synagogue if a special needs accommodation is needed to participate. That simple statement and commitment can open doors.
Below are 15 suggestions for what you can do during Jewish Disability Awareness Month (and beyond!).
- Use the Jewish Disability Awareness Month logo on your website and on all printed materials during February. (Obtain the logo by contacting the creator at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
- Dedicate a Shabbat worship service to inclusion and the contributions of children and adults who have disabilities.
- Participate in a community-wide disability awareness event, such as the showing of “Mary and Max”, “Praying with Lior” or “Autism the Musical“.
- Give a presentation at your congregation’s February board meeting sharing stories about students with special needs and how inclusion benefits all students.
- Host an art exhibit or musical performance by an artist who has a disability.
- Do an environmental scan of your building, looking at accessibility of the sanctuary, bimah, education areas, parking and restrooms.
- Have religious school students create mezuzot to be placed at the appropriate height for people who use wheelchairs, and mark the occasion with a special ceremony.
- Invite a disability specialist, parent or person with a disability to give a d’var Torah.
- Focus Torah study on text that informs us of Jewish values for inclusion.
- Collaborate with other organizations in the community to host a conference presenting a variety of workshops to educate Jewish professionals and community members about aspects of living with disability.
- Create a pamphlet or online resource about inclusion etiquette with ideas about how to relate to someone with a disability.
- Since children and teens with disabilities are often targets for bullying, use JDAM as an opportunity to address the issue of bullying with youth group members as a NFTY program.
- Set the expectation that inclusion is part of the congregational culture and formalize it by starting an Inclusion or Access Committee in February, create the mission statement in March, do an assessment of all areas of the congregation throughout the spring and early summer, envision your inclusive congregation and write a strategic plan to start the new year.
- Above all, share your stories of success, the fruits of your work that give people hope that they can belong.
- Find more resources and ideas from the Jewish Special Education International Consortium website.