Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive



Inclusion can seem overwhelming for a community that has not previously made accommodations or offered inclusive programming for individuals with disabilities. My advice? Start small, but start somewhere – and while this may help to make the task seem somewhat less daunting, I suspect that for many, it begs the question, “How do I begin?”

Here are 10 steps to begin to make your congregation more inclusive:

1. Identify the key stakeholders.
Inclusion of people with disabilities is not a one-person job. While one person can light a spark, no one person can change the culture of a synagogue alone. Assemble a core group of professionals and lay people. Include someone with disabilities or the parent of a child with disabilities or both.

2. Recognize that inclusion is about changing a culture.
Culture change is a process. Recognize that you have embarked on a long-term endeavor and that the process itself can and will be as significant as the destination.

3. Create a vision
While there are many tools to facilitate the visioning process, most synagogues already have a vision statement and are familiar with the process. Ensure that the vision of inclusion is in line with the synagogue’s vision.

4. Set Goals
This is an opportunity to dream. Do not engage in discussions of what may or may not be possible at this stage, as you will limit yourself.

5. Prioritize Goals
Discuss what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time. This is most frequently the place where congregations get stuck. Ideally, you will choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.

6. Get Help
If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant. And if one of your stakeholders does not have a disability or a child with a disability, here is the place to find someone who can share that perspective. Your goals will help to determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.

7. Share
Let the rest of the congregation know about your efforts. Changing a culture requires transparency and support; keeping your work a “secret” until a program or event is “ready” can be a mistake. Inclusion is not about an isolated program, it is about relationships. Invite others into your conversations.

8, 9 & 10. Lather, rinse, repeat
OK, not quite. But the idea is to put your goal into action, build in opportunities for assessment and reflection, and then do it all again.

Keep at it. Inclusion requires intentionality, dedication and perseverance. It is hard work, but it is work that is important, meaningful and satisfying.

Originally published at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block

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Lisa Friedman

About Lisa Friedman

Lisa Friedman is the education co-director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This position includes overseeing an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. Lisa also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training. She blogs at Jewish Special Needs Education: Removing the Stumbling Block.

3 Responses to “Ten Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive”

  1. avatar

    In terms of facilities, physical accommodation is de rigeur these days. As for programming and welcoming, I can’t imagine a synagogue that needs to be reminded to do this. That may be because my synagogue, http://www.congregationmicah.org has always gone to the outer limit in making sure that kids with disabilities receive a Jewish education and an experience that is full and loving. People of all backgrounds are embraced, as it should be.

  2. avatar

    Excellent ideas for consideration AND action! Thank you, Lisa Friedman for a concise outline of steps to follow toward important change.

  3. avatar

    Thank you for this important and practical advice! These tips can help all synagogues actualize the belief that regardless of ability, economic status, age, or life stage, all Jews should be able to participate in, contribute to, and feel embraced by the Jewish community. As a core value of UJA-Federation of New York, we are committed to fostering fully inclusive Jewish communities. Each year, along with professional conferences, communal roundtables, and programmatic funding, UJA-Federation presents Synagogue Inclusion Awards to synagogues in the New York metropolitan area that are exemplary in their inclusion policies and programs. Here are a few examples of some stellar inclusion work that is being done in the field and which we support: Collaborations with group homes and mental health clinics to offer adjusted services and celebrations for individuals with a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities; individualized tutoring and tailored Bar and Bat Mitzvah services for youth with special needs; professional special education training to offer self-contained and inclusive Hebrew school classrooms; community-wide sermons, events, workshops, and volunteer opportunities centered on issues of difference and inclusion; and fundraising for structural repairs to make synagogues more accessible to individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, blind and visually impaired, or wheelchair bound. There is much being done in the Jewish community to make our institutions more inclusive, and still much to be done. We look forward to continuing this work together!

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