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Disability Access and Inclusion Training Series Continues This Week

More than 100 people joined the first session of the new “Disability Access and Inclusion Training Series for Jewish Organizations and Activists” offered by a coalition of over 40 Jewish organizations. The session “Inclusion as a Jewish Value” laid the groundwork for the other six sessions, not only demonstrating clearly that inclusion is present even in our earliest texts, but also responding to common misconceptions and obstacles.

Aaron Kaufman, Senior Legislative Associate at the Jewish Federations of North America, who has cerebral palsy, shared with us how his Judaism informed his leadership in disability policy, and his disability gave him a unique facet to lead in the Jewish world. He was also quick to point out that this was nothing new, and that in fact Moses – our greatest teacher – himself had a disability. Aaron also lined up a number of common concerns raised about practicing disability inclusion, from a perceived conflict with other inclusion needs to a perception of cost. Aaron responded factually, pointing out that disability cut across all categories, and that everyone could join the disability community eventually. He also pointed out that the financial cost of accommodation was low.

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, the first blind woman JTS ordained Rabbi, and a teacher and spiritual leader in the Washington, DC area, explained to us that Jewish tradition had actually understood for over 1500 years the importance of investing in Jews with disabilities. She shared a story of a rabbi whose individualized education plan with his student included 400 daily repetitions of a lesson, a massive investment of time, and that the Talmud further shared that, on one day when the student did not learn because of outside factors, the Rabbi taught him another 400 times. This shows us the value of including everyone (Join us next week for inclusion in Jewish education, to learn more about cost and time effective ways that we do this today).

Rabbi Tuchman reminded us that the Jewish leaders of old understood that everyone had something to offer, sharing a story of how the great sage, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who codified the Mishnah, made special time to visit and learn from a blind sage whom others had shunned, receiving a special blessing in return. She reminded us that the ultimate Jewish ideal is to look at each different facet of the uniqueness of our fellow Jews, and become accustomed to it, adding it to our definition of “normal”, which as Aaron had reminded us, is another way that disability inclusion touches everyone.

The questions continued well beyond the time that we had. Many of the questions showed an incredible passion among the people attending, seeking answers to practical skills questions about including Jews with disabilities. It is clear that this session left the audience enthused, excited and eager for more.

We hope that you will add to that enthusiasm, by joining for any or all of the remaining six sessions of the series:

You can register at https://www.respectability.org/jewish-events/ and we encourage you to share the series with anyone whom you think will be interested in including Jews with disabilities.

While each session stands alone, feel free to watch last Tuesday’s session on our website and download the accessible PowerPoint at https://www.respectability.org/2020/06/inclusion-is-a-jewish-value/. The link should be available by this coming Tuesday. Each of our sessions will become available on our website in perpetuity within a week of being recorded, but obviously the opportunity for Q&A only exists if you participate live.

Please join us in this amazing series, so that together we can supercharge inclusion in our Jewish community. Please further consider if you would like to become one of our co-promoting organizations for the rest of the series, which is an easy process. Just go to https://www.respectability.org/sponsorjewishwebinars for more information.

There are a few more time-sensitive opportunities we’d like to remind you about:

  • We welcome your participation in our Virtual Shabbat Dinner tonight, at 9:30 pm EST or 6:30 pm PST. RSVP at: https://www.respectability.org/2020/04/shabbat-dinner-online/
  • The National Leadership Program is a virtual program, ideal for people who want to gain skills and contacts while making a positive difference for people with disabilities.
  • The Jewish Inclusion Fellowship Program in particular, has an opening or two for people with an absolute passion for learning and exploring about the different inclusion resources that exist, who would also enjoy research, interaction with other organizations, and deep thought about how to make information useful.

Please join us in the practice of inclusion and have a Shabbat Shalom.

Matan Koch
Director of Respectability California and Jewish Leadership


In our weekly Shabbat Smiles, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Shabbat Smile are those of the guest contributor.

The Shabbat Smile is curated and edited by Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact and Vivian Bass, RespectAbility Executive Committee Board Member. If you would like to write a Shabbat Smile, please email Debbie at DebbieF@RespectAbility.org.

Meet the Author

Matan Koch
Matan Koch

Matan A. Koch is the Director of RespectAbility California and Jewish Leadership at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. A longtime national leader in disability advocacy and a wheelchair user himself, he leads Project Moses, RespectAbility’s Los Angeles-based Jewish leadership project, and is also on the front lines in many other areas of RespectAbility’s work, including: disability inclusion in philanthropy and nonprofits, Jewish outreach and impact, leadership, legal affairs and our continuing Los Angeles expansion.

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