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RespectAbility Releases New Guide to Accessible Virtual and In-Person High Holiday Services

Los Angeles, California, August 13 – The disability nonprofit RespectAbility is pleased to announce the release of a new toolkit to help congregations ensure their High Holiday services and related events are accessible – “Opening All Gates: Making High Holiday Celebrations Accessible to All, In Person and Online.”

The rise of the Delta variant and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic will cause many synagogues and communities of worship to move their services online. Some communities will aim to have a hybrid experience with an in-person component. Even as the Jewish world continues to determine how to create a meaningful, spiritual experience in each format, the experience must be accessible to all.

Recognizing this, RespectAbility has created a revised edition of the “Opening Your Virtual Gates” toolkit that we created last year with the help of Rabbis Lauren Tuchman and Darby Leigh. The toolkit provided resources to help congregations ensure that virtual services included the one in five Jews with disabilities. Leigh, who is Deaf, and Tuchman, who is blind, brought both their deep knowledge as rabbis and critical lived experiences. “Opening All Gates” updates this content, while adding in content for in-person and hybrid services.

A coalition of more than a dozen Jewish organizations, including Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Reconstructing Judaism, joined together to release “Opening Your Virtual Gates”. Again this year, dozens of Jewish groups are working together, aiming to ensure that every prayer community that is seeking to create an accessible High Holiday experience receives the new “Opening All Gates” toolkit. Anyone who wishes also may download a copy from the RespectAbility website.

“RespectAbility was founded on Jewish values that people with disabilities could participate fully and share their talent with the world, just like everyone else,” said Matan Koch, Vice President of RespectAbility who is also a wheelchair user and leads the organization’s Jewish  inclusion work. “I am pleased that even at this time of continued disruption, this guide will help to realize that vision for as many Jews as possible as they celebrate the High Holidays this year.”

Many of the suggestions in the guide are easy to implement, and they will help everyone, not just Jews with disabilities. For example, many English-language learners and Jews who do not speak Hebrew fluently find it is helpful to have both sounds and captions when they are following content. Accessibility strategies such as captions, identification of speakers, and the availability of materials in advance can be helpful for many people learning to acclimate to a digital world.

“This guide will help ensure both in-person accessibility and the inclusion of people with disabilities who find themselves unable to travel to synagogue even when it is not a time of pandemic,” said Vivian Bass, Vice Chair of RespectAbility and one of the co-chairs of the Faith Inclusion program. “Additionally, Jews who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and whose own synagogues do not offer accessibility solutions will be able to stream into a service with the ASL and captioning recommended by this guide.”

This 2021 revision was accomplished by RespectAbility’s Jewish team, which, in addition to its founder Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Mr. Koch, includes Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President of Communications and a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Eric Ascher, Communications Associate; Joshua Steinberg, Jewish Leadership Associate; and Jake Stimell, Speakers Bureau Associate. RespectAbility is also grateful for the input of Jewish Inclusion Fellow Nicole Olarsch.

In addition to Mrs. Bass, the Jewish inclusion program is co-chaired by Shelley Richman Cohen, co-founder of RespectAbility. Additional board members involved with our Jewish work include Linda L. Burger, Judith Creed, Ila Eckhoff, Gabrielle Einstein-Sim, Donna Meltzer, and Delbert A. Whetter.

The copromoters for the original “Opening Your Virtual Gates” project included:

  • Avodah
  • BJE JkidLA
  • B’nai David-Judea Congregation
  • Edlavitch DCJCC
  • IKAR
  • Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ – Greater MetroWest ABLE
  • Jewish Federations of North America
  • Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust
  • JQ International
  • Keshet
  • Keshet: For LGBTQ Equality in Jewish Life
  • Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah
  • Matan
  • Moment Magazine
  • National Ramah Commission
  • Reconstructing Judaism
  • Shalom Institute
  • The Jewish Journal
  • The Miracle Project
  • The Women’s Rabbinic Network
  • Union for Reform Judaism
  • United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Whole Community Inclusion at Jewish Learning Venture

For more information, please contact Matan Koch at MatanK@RespectAbility.org.

Meet the Author

Matan Koch

Matan A. Koch is Vice President for Workforce, Leadership, and Faith Programs 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. Koch oversees RespectAbility’s workforce engagement and education portfolio, advocacy pipeline including, speakers Bureau and civic engagement initiatives, and our Jewish and other faith-based programs. He also leads RespectAbility’s California office.

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