The Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Reform Jewish Movements announced a partnership today called “Hineinu”–an innovative collaboration of the disability professionals from each denomination sharing resources, support and direction in order to increase disability inclusion in our synagogues for people of all abilities. As a part of Hineinu, the four Movements produced a comprehensive Jewish guide to creating inclusive communities. Read more…
This post by Rabbi Lynne Landsberg originally appeared at the Ruderman Family Foundation Blog, Zeh Lezeh, on November 5, 2013.
The Pew Research Center’s recent study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” has rocked our Jewish boats. According to Pew, our “affiliated” numbers are shrinking. While we are looking for innovative ways to make Jewish life and Jewish living more attractive and attainable to our population, there is an opportunity to open our doors even wider and make a more robust effort to welcome and include Jews with disabilities (as well as their families).
The researchers at Pew asked important questions about Jewish self-identification and affiliation, as well as questions about child-rearing, attachment to Israel and remembering the Holocaust. As a person with disabilities, I would have loved to have seen the folks at Pew delve more deeply. I would have loved to see them ask questions like:
- Can you even get into your synagogue building?
- Are you able to read the synagogue’s prayer book? Is it available in large print? Do they have one in Braille?
- Are you able to understand the teachings or the sermon through an interpreter or CART? Do they have an assisted listening device?
- Does the synagogue’s religious school offer special-ed accommodations?
- Can your family member access the facilities inside the synagogue’s building?
Our sages teach, “Do not separate yourself from the community.” However, Jews with disabilities are too often separated from the community through no fault of their own. If synagogue leadership could answer “yes” to the above questions, we could expand our reach in deep and important ways. There are Jews out there who are “religious” and want to belong.
Maybe Pew could have asked a question like: Do you want to be a part of synagogue life or a broader Jewish community, but feel turned away because of physical and attitudinal barriers? There are so many Jews with disabilities who remain unaffiliated because of inaccessibility but who do not want to remain unaffiliated. These same people very well might self-identify as religious, but may not have a place to worship or participate in Jewish life. So by default they become unaffiliated. The Pew study could have asked the same potential question another way:
Do you WANT to affiliate with a synagogue but feel like they don’t want you?
Some synagogues report that they are inclusive and cite a story or two about how a grandparent or guest at a bar mitzvah was able to enjoy their service. But, as the saying goes, “the plural of anecdote is not data.” When twenty percent of your stories include Jews with disabilities, I’ll consider your synagogue inclusive.
At some point down the line, Pew might consider expanding their segmentation for a study on this demographic. They might want to target specific parts of the Jewish community – especially those with disabilities who are denied accessibility and inclusion in the Jewish community. It would be interesting to see the numbers inverted – because no doubt, this is a population that has long been yearning to be an important part of synagogue life and the Jewish community.
Rabbi Lynne Landsberg is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Senior Adviser on Disability Issues, Co-Chair of the Jewish Disability Network, and Co-Chair of the Committee on Disability Awareness and Inclusion of the Central Conference of American Rabbis
True or False: There are very few people around the world living with a disability.
Learn from experts Shelly Christensen and Lisa Friedman how to make your community more accessible and welcoming to all. The webinars offer big-picture guidance, strategies and opportunities for advocacy:
- Start an inclusion initiative (Part I)
- Foster a culture of inclusion (Part I)
- Engage parents as partners (Part II)
- Special Needs Education Best Practices & Successes (Part II)
These webinars can be viewed independently or as a mini-course, “Building Inclusive Communities.” Part I, “Say YES! Bringing Inclusion into Your Synagogue,” features Shelly Christensen and Part II, “Say YES! Parents as Partners & Success Stories,” features Lisa Friedman.
Today the five Eisendrath Legislative Assistants say goodbye after an amazing year representing the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. We have worked on nearly 70 different legislative issues, represented the RAC in countless coalitions, seen some bills signed into law and others tragically defeated, said goodbye to one Congress and welcomed the next. All in all it has been an incredible year.
This summer, a class of teens at the URJ Kutz camp in Warwick, NY studied political advocacy with Alison Stamm, the Director of Youth Engagement at Temple Sinai of Roslyn. Alison’s minor, called “Get up. Stand up. Stand up for your rights,” emphasized the importance of influencing legislative change for the greater good. Drawing upon materials from the Religious Action Center, these teen activists studied Jewish text, researched legislation and created videos to share their values with their communities and elected officials on three important issues: immigration, disability rights, and pluralism and women’s rights in Israel.
Encouraging the United States House of Representatives to rafity the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:
Encouraging the United States Senate to pass common-sense comprehensive immigration reform:
Standing with the Women of the Wall:
“All I’ve ever wanted was to belong,” she said. And for 14 years until we met, she was invisible to the Jewish community. I met Sharon when I was a novice inclusion coordinator early in my career. One question from me during a short visit started our collaboration. I just asked her what she wanted.
Sharon just wanted to be included and counted as a bonafide member of the Jewish community. One would think that would be somewhat easy, but for Sharon, having a disability proved to be the only factor that kept her on the outside.
The caring people who worked at all of the synagogues and Jewish agencies she contacted did not see beyond her garbled speech pattern and the wheelchair which got her to and from all of the other aspects of her life, except this one.
It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the last Friday in July!
NFTY’S Urban Mitzvah Corps participants were here early last week for a social justice trip to DC. It was the final conference of the RAC program year, and a bit of nostalgia is setting in amongst our staff. Our terrific 2012-2013 class of Eisendrath Legislative Assitants will only be here for another two weeks. And today is the last day for our summer rabbinic LAs, Benj Fried and Steven Morris. They’ve been great colleagues for the past couple of months, and we’re all looking forward to our paths crossing again soon.
Wednesday marked four years since the federal minimum wage was raised to its current level of $7.25 per hour. That translates to a whopping annual salary of $15,080, leaving it nearly impossible for many families to make ends meet. (In fact, that amount is roughly the same as the poverty level for a single adult with a child.) Take a moment to email your members of Congress if you haven’t yet done so and urge them to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over the next three years.
Speaking of anniversaries, Thursday marked the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 23rd. A little-known fact is that the traditional 23rd anniversary gift is actually Senate ratification of a major international treaty! So use this opportunity to encourage your Senators to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In case you missed it, Steve Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU announced last week that our own Leibel Fein has given the institution his nearly complete collection of writings, “including over 1,500 documents: articles, speeches, letters, and author’s drafts of writings which later were (or weren’t) published.” You can browse the Leibel Fein collection here.
The Maccabiah Games are underway in Israel, and JTA had a story last week about the heated competition in baseball, where there are a full three teams playing: the U.S., Canada and Israel. Not surprisingly for a sport known as “America’s Pastime,” the U.S. team is winning the tournament thus far.
In other Israel-related news, we’re all eagerly awaiting the start of renewed peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs issued a statement, noting, “We welcome this apparent progress toward peace, commend Secretary of State Kerry for his leadership and effort and pledge our support for such efforts as they move forward. We pray that this is the beginning of a process that will lead to a lasting agreement that will bring true peace and stability for a region that has known conflict for thousands of years. We call on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with a true willingness to work for peace and we pray that the vision of the prophets will soon be fulfilled.”