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A New Substance to Your Shabbats

My name is Matan Koch and I am RespectAbility’s Director of Jewish Leadership. Over the next few weeks you will notice that the Shabbat Smile continues its focus on the very best practices and exemplars of Jewish inclusion. The primary goal is to bring a new substance to your Shabbats. Both the weekly messages and our soon-to-be-redesigned archive will become a go-to resource as you work to advance inclusion in your own communities. Don’t worry – we will still bring you key announcements that you need to know, along with the very best wisdom from our Jewish inclusion professionals and our expert allies at other organizations, but I see potential for something even more unique.

Last week I was privileged to attend the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference, proudly proclaimed to be the largest gathering of Jews in North America. As is often the case, I was invited to speak on a panel with brilliant colleagues, in this case Pamela Rae Schuller and Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, in a session on synagogue inclusion.

It had all the parts you might expect. We introduced ourselves, told some funny anecdotes, and had a robust Q&A where we shared our wisdom, such as it is, with the crowd. But as we had been planning this panel, one of my brilliant colleagues came up with the idea that it would be great to see what could be accomplished if the people in the room could talk to each other.

Thus, for the last 15 minutes of our session, we broke people up in informal groups where they discussed their challenges and their triumphs. We did not have time for a regroup, but as I was remaining to greet people after the event, one of the participants came up to me in wonder, because one of the members of her group had come up with a solution for a challenge that had been vexing her in her work for some time.

To me, this was instructive. Not every big challenge is best solved by an inclusion professional. Sometimes it’s just someone who has experienced a similar challenge and come up with a creative solution.

I want to extend this wisdom to the Shabbat Smile. Did your synagogue or organization come up with a creative approach that may be exactly what one of our readers is looking for? Might you be interested in writing up a little background on how you got there? If that’s the case, I want to invite you to contact me at to talk about writing a Shabbat Smile. Don’t worry, I will help you edit it and get it ready for publication.

Tradition teaches us that we each have a little bit of Torah to share with the world. As we head into Shabbat, I want to invite you to think about the Torah of inclusion that you have to share with the world. We are ready to help you share it.

A great way to start doing this work is to participate in the events around Jewish Federations of North America’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Day Shabbat (JDAD). JDAD brings a massive group of Jews that care about disability issues together for a day to advocate and educate on Capitol Hill. It has become THE major convening of Jews who care about disability issues. Last year it sold out far in advance. Thus, if you want a space I suggest to sign up right this minute.

Additionally, RespectAbility is THRILLED to be working with JFNA, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and the Edlavitch DCJCC on the first ever EREV-JDAD event, a collaborative convening of leaders in the Jewish disability community, which is (as the name implies) the night before JDAD. There are only a limited number of spaces left for that program so please also register for that today. We also have spaces for our upcoming cohorts of National Leadership Fellows so please do help spread the word on that as well. You can find information on that program HERE.

Shabbat Shalom,
Matan Koch
Director of Project Moses and General Counsel

Meet the Author

Matan Koch

Matan A. Koch is the Senior Policy Advisor at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.

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