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It’s Time to Count Everyone In

Shelly Christensen smiling headshot

Shelly Christensen, Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

Counting the Omer is a reminder that, in addition to counting the days, we also must reflect on who is counted in our communities.

Everyone Counts.

Ask yourself: How do people with disabilities and mental health conditions and those who love them actually count in your community? When I was the Program Manager of the Minneapolis Jewish Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities, I gave a presentation about the program to the boards of Jewish organizations. It was a stirring presentation to raise awareness and introduce how we could work together to create communities of inclusion and belonging. “Everyone counts,” I concluded. “It’s time to count everyone in.” That was twenty years ago.

People were genuinely moved. My presentation had impact. “It’s about time!” some people said. At every presentation someone would ask to speak privately. Family members quietly spoke of the pain they felt because their loved one was not welcome. They talked about feeling invisible, fading from the tapestry of the Jewish community.

These people were leaders in their respective organizations and in the community. If they felt isolated and not valued, what about the other Jews, invisible and voiceless, who just wanted what everyone else had—a place to be counted in their community?  They and their loved ones were not heard or allowed to express preferences for how they wanted to belong.

Judith Snow, of blessed memory, was a writer, activist, and actor who lived with quadriplegia. I heard her speak at the Institute on Theology and Disability several years ago. She said, “Faith communities need to remember that my real relationship with the world is as a created being in a personal relationship with God. I have much more I can contribute and many ways to experience a fulfilling and quality life in the community. Everything we are can be useful to someone else.” This is the essence of belonging. Judith’s talk can be seen here.

Perhaps it’s not enough to count people in. When we are counted on, as Judith Snow said, “Everything we are can be useful to someone else.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelly Christensen
Senior Director of Faith Inclusion

Meet the Author

Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen is the Senior Director of Faith Inclusion and Belonging at RespectAbility.

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