Tag Archives: Guest

Jewish Disability Awareness Month Shmita

by Shelley Christensen

“For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you . . . (Leviticus 25:3–6)

Having completed six consecutive years of observing Jewish Disability Awareness Months (2009-2015), we now approach the shmita year. In ancient times, shmita meant the land was rested and debts were retired, but what might this practice mean in our time? And what are the indications for our work and mission to suffuse our Jewish culture with the spirit of inclusion throughout the year?

I have been captivated by the growing numbers of communities and organizations that participate in Jewish Disability Awareness Month. What began as a mechanism for a few Jewish communities to share resources and collaborate to raise awareness has generated a movement that advocates for person-centered authentic participation – in other words, a high-quality Jewish life determined by people who have disabilities and those who love them, with the support and partnership of Jewish organizations.

I don’t think Jewish Disability Awareness Month would have expanded so dramatically in North America, Israel, and in other Jewish communities around the world had it not been for the increasing pressure by self-advocates and family members who wanted nothing less than a quality Jewish life.

When my colleagues at the Jewish Special Education International Consortium first founded Jewish Disability Awareness Month, we did so with the underlying belief that it would inspire the momentum to push forward so that organizations would respond to meeting the needs of people with disabilities.

I’m not convinced that we’re there yet, but the momentum is occurring. We’ve witnessed it in the many programs funded by the Ruderman Family Foundation across the expanse of the Jewish world, as well as so many initiatives that provide leadership development, vocational, educational, recreational, and residential supports and advocacy. The Ruderman Foundation has provided the means for disability inclusion initiatives with the Reform Movement, the Conservative Movemens, and Chabad, all of which provide innovative tools and strategies to ensure that people with disabilities are valued and contributing members of their Jewish communities.

I receive numerous calls and emails from Jewish professionals who are initiating disability inclusion programs and supports, creating points of entry to participation and critically thinking how to best reach out to community members, many of whom are not affiliated with a synagogue or Jewish community center. And those organizations that have been providing services are evaluating them to adapt to more person-centered models of support.

It is fitting to mark the changes in our community that lead to constant and consistent attention to disability inclusion as we enter the shmita year by changing the name of our Facebook page from “Jewish Disability Awareness Month” to “Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion.” The new name reflects a commitment to our ongoing work, and the page will serve as an inspirational and informational resource for inclusion all year long.

The shmita year can be one of introspection and inspiration to guide us in the work of inclusion. We cannot desist from our work. We can allow the spirit of inclusion to infuse our actions as partners with God, with community and with people with disabilities and those who love them to achieve a quality Jewish life.

A Yom Kippur Bone Marrow Donation Story

I joined the bone marrow registry at a Gift of Life drive when I was a first year at UNC-Chapel Hill. The NC Hillel director at the time, Or Mars, also joined the registry that day. While I have been hoping ever since to be someone’s match, that day has yet to come. Though I’m not destined to be a match (yet), it’s remarkable how the stars have still seemed to align in other ways almost ten years later. I manage the RAC-Gift of Life partnership, and specifically, spend a lot of my time helping congregations across the US organize bone marrow drives on Yom Kippur. As you’ll read below, Or became a match for a young boy a few years after swabbing. Amazingly, his story is deeply intertwined with Yom Kippur, and to top it off, his wife is a rabbi at a participating Yom Kippur congregation this year!

Enjoy his story below, and be in touch with me to learn about all the ways to get involved with our partnership with Gift of Life.

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Honoring our Legacy by Continuing the Work

As I think back on my years of service and involvement in Jewish communal life, I marvel at the key role the Reform Movement played in advancing and achieving civil rights, both in the lead-up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in the years since.

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Nothing But Nets Logo Send a Net Save a Life

Nothing But Nets… 5 Years Later

By Stephanie Garry

Every World Malaria Day, I reflect on my life-changing trip to Kenya.  Five years ago, I had no idea what to expect while traveling to Kenya to visit refugee camps in Dadaab to distribute the nets that are key in malaria prevention. I had been on safari to Kenya 14 years ago with my husband and son and so loved the air of the land and the romance of the sky—and the vistas of animals on our planet. Read more…

When We Have Nothing Left to Say to One Another

By Rabbi Doug Sagal

Last year, my synagogue hosted a forum on gun violence prevention.  The forum was presented by a local advocacy group that had been founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Amongst the speakers were former Governor Jim Florio, who had worked to strengthen gun safety legislation, a dad whose son was killed at Virginia Tech, and several members of the clergy.  Also in attendance was a large group from the “New Jersey Second Amendment Society,” an organization of gun advocates who travel to meetings to show their opposition to any further gun safety legislation. Because there had been some unpleasantness at a previous meeting in the community, there were several local and county police officers in attendance to ensure a peaceful meeting. Read more…

Swabbing on Yom Kippur: What is a Life Worth Living?

Last Yom Kippur, 35 congregations partnered with the RAC and Gift of Life to run bone marrow registration drives. We swabbed over 3,000 people, and already, two matches have been found! We are in the midst of recruiting congregations for our Yom Kippur Gift of Life drives this year, and I’m quickly learning that the project’s best advocates are the clergy, temple staff and volunteers who worked so hard to make last year such a success.

Interested in joining us this year? Sign up here for more information, or register for one of our two upcoming informational webinars:

You’ll hear from RAC and Gift of Life staff; we’ll go over everything you need to know, and YK alum will be available to answer all your questions and concerns about organizing a drive on Yom Kippur. Read more…

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Spotlight on Teens

As I think about October being Domestic Violence month, I realize that I have spent 19 years bringing the issue of domestic abuse to the forefront in both the Jewish and general communities.

I spent 10 years on the board of the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, including two as president.   This coalition provides temporary housing to survivors of domestic violence and their young children who witnessed the abuse as well as a full range of services.

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Bone Marrow Transplant Awareness Ribbon

The Gift of Life

Most years, I do not take the time to reflect on how I will make the New Year a meaningful one. But this year, only one week in, I feel like that I have already made an impact in 5774.

About two years ago, I swabbed my cheek as part of a bone marrow drive for a young man I knew who was in need of marrow, but I wasn’t a match. The years passed and I had not thought about the drive, until my phone rang.  It was someone I didn’t know. I did not think too much and it didn’t seem like a big deal – after all, I had donated blood before so this felt familiar. And then, about a year ago, I got the call that I was a match and I needed to go for confirmatory testing. Little did I know that they called about 10 other people and asked them to do the same. I still did not think too much of it. Things finally got “real” when I flew to Georgetown Hospital two weeks before the donation for a physical and to meet with the medical team.

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