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Faith Inclusion

Tamar Davis on Community Inclusion Engagement

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Tamar Davis

There is a verse that is often quoted by Jewish educators from Proverbs (22:6) which states, “Teach a child according to his way.” This verse reflects the Jewish belief that every child should be educated and raised according to their way. While many schools and various educational settings strive to create inclusive environments, how should we as a community be advocating for, advancing, and supporting inclusion in our children’s educational ecosystems?

This question is quite personal. My parents had to advocate for their children with disabilities, and now I am an adult who has to advocate for myself and for my child with a disability. For my parents, one of the challenges they faced was figuring out how to fulfill their wish of enrolling me in a Jewish day school without compromising my hearing and speech development. For the first few years of my life, I attended a public school for the hearing-impaired and deaf, and my parents supplemented my Jewish education at home. Then my parents “mainstreamed” me in a Jewish day school and took me to the local public school to access the services we needed in order to continue my development.

Now, especially since I became CEO of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education in 2020, all I think about is inclusion in Jewish educational settings and what this means on a practical level. The phrase, “inclusion in Jewish educational settings,” can represent different paths that a family might take for a child to feel a true sense of belonging in Jewish life and learning. At Gateways, inclusion is about being able to have a choice. There are different options for children with disabilities, diverse learning needs, and mental health challenges. Some options might be for students who are in Jewish day schools and need additional support to succeed in the classroom, which we make possible by having therapists in day schools in the Greater Boston area. Other options might include enrolling in a program such as our Sunday and B’nei Mitzvah programs, where the goal is for students to learn about their Jewish heritage and traditions and be able to participate in their synagogue or community’s activities and services. There are many factors that can go into this kind of decision, and every family should be able to have all of the options to consider when determining what’s best for their child.

So how can we ALL be advocates of inclusion for children with disabilities in our communities and educational settings? We must be in partnership with one another, not just families and individuals with disabilities, but the entire community together. This includes our community leaders in our schools, synagogues, or any communal space we find ourselves in, our families and individuals who aren’t directly affected by disabilities, and our educators who are creating educational environments that children can access. Because, as that other famed verse from the Talmud (Shevuat 39a) states, “All of Israel is responsible for each other.”

Learn More about Tamar Davis at the Gateways: Access to Jewish Education website

Shifting Attitudes and Making Change at St. Luke’s

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McKenzie Stribich

Over the last few years, I have done much-needed advocacy work for disabled people at my church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, a place whose people I love with all my heart. It is work I do out of love, both because I want my parish to be the welcoming place I know it to be myself, and because I understand the pain of exclusion. Throughout my advocacy work, I’ve told many personal stories to convey how dire it is that we make our faith spaces accessible. The following story is one I recently sent to my priests about how the lack of accessibility in the evangelical church in which I grew up negatively impacted me.

When I was a child and had surgery that landed me in a wheelchair during recovery, I couldn’t attend Sunday school with the children my age because the room for my grade was upstairs and the church had no elevator. And so, I attended Sunday school with the grade above me because their classroom was downstairs. For the next few years, I moved from grade to grade with the older kids. [continue reading…]

Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Look Out the Window!

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg at the 2017 Tzedek dinner for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience. Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy of Rabbi Landsberg and the Religious Action Center.

Rabbi Lynne Landsberg at the 2017 Tzedek dinner for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience. Photo by Ralph Alswang, courtesy of Rabbi Landsberg and the Religious Action Center.

The Talmud [Berachot 34b] teaches that one must pray in a house with windows so they can see the heavens and focus their heart. Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, of blessed memory, was the Senior Advisor on Disability Rights at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC). As a passionate advocate for disability rights, she wrote, “the Talmud teaches us that a synagogue must be built with windows in the sanctuary. I believe this is so we can see who is outside and unable to join us.”

Thirty-two years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is a comprehensive federal civil rights statute that protects the rights of people with disabilities, entitling over 56 million Americans with disabilities to equal opportunities as full citizens of the United States. The ADA is landmark legislation for many people who, prior to its passage, couldn’t cross the street in their wheelchair, use the restroom in public buildings, or ride public transportation.

Faith institutions are covered by Title I employment regulations in the case of organizations with 15 or more employees. They are also covered by Title III if space is rented to an outside organization, such as a daycare that is not owned or operated in any way by the faith organization. But other than with these two cases, faith institutions are exempted from the ADA. [continue reading…]

32 Years After the ADA, People with Disabilities Still Are Left Behind in Faith Institutions

An African American woman in a wheelchair looking up a flight of stairsJuly is Disability Pride Month. It commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a milestone civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. However, mosques, synagogues, churches, and other religious institutions are largely exempt from ADA regulations.

Courts have upheld this exemption because requiring religious institutions to follow ADA regulations and allowing the government to take enforcement action against them could go against the First Amendment. Exempting religious organizations from the ADA’s equal access standards allows them to erect structures and deliver activities according to their religious convictions. Unfortunately, this means disabled people can be denied accommodations such as curb cuts, special parking spaces, ramps, elevators, just to name a few.

We invited two people with disabilities to describe the consequences of the ADA’s exemption for religious organizations and the exemption’s impact on their lives, the lives of others, and their communities. [continue reading…]

Have You Seen The New Disability Pride Flag?

2021 Disability pride flag with five stripes

2021 Disability Pride Flag

The original disability pride flag, created by Ann Magill in 2019, underwent a makeover by Magill for accessibility purposes in 2021. They altered the original zigzagged design because it worsened symptoms for individuals with visually triggered disabilities, including seizure and migraine disorders. Magill’s updated design features muted colors and a straight diagonal band from the top left to the bottom right corner.

The original flag’s zigzags represented how disabled people creatively navigate barriers. On the improved flag, the parallel stripes stand for intracommunal solidarity. The colors on the flag symbolize various disability experiences. The black background mourns disabled people who have died due to negligence, suicide, rebellion, illness, and eugenics. The stripe’s color represents disability types:

  • Red: physical disabilities
  • Gold: cognitive and intellectual disabilities
  • White: nonvisible and undiagnosed disabilities
  • Blue: psychiatric disabilities
  • Green: sensory disabilities

[continue reading…]

A Typical Day Living with Bipolar Disorder

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Riccardo Ricciardi

How does a “typical day” consolidate with the daily reality of living with Bipolar Disorder? The answer is simple. There is no typical day.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines Bipolar Disorder as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function.

I’m not a health care professional. I’m someone who has lived with Bipolar 2 Disorder for many years and has gleaned, albeit minimally, from the peaks and precipices of this condition. Each person’s narrative is unique. This is mine. [continue reading…]

Stories Matter: JDP Introduction for June 17, 2022

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Shelly Christensen

The stories we tell of our unique lived experiences with disabilities and mental health conditions matter. It is a generous act when someone pulls back the curtain to tell their story.

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a popular TED Talk called, “The Danger of a Single Story.” A single story is a generalization about a person based on stereotypes and stigma. Often people with disabilities and mental health conditions are seen only by virtue of a diagnosis or behavior, labeled by that one piece of information. The danger of a single story is that so much about that person is never revealed—the strengths and gifts they can contribute to others and the hopes and dreams that give them a sense of purpose and belonging. [continue reading…]

Healing Out Loud

Leah Ilana Craig headshot

Leah Ilana Craig

I’m told there’s a power to “healing out loud,” speaking to one’s experience of working through, or living with a mental health condition, physical disability, chronic illness, etc. As I tell the story of my recovery from anorexia or living life with my chronic illnesses, I’ve seen this power myself in myriad ways. Still, when I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) in February 2021, I wondered if there was a limit in the power of healing out loud.

DID used to be known as multiple personality disorder. It is one of the diagnoses in the DSM that remains highly stigmatized. Often the subject of sensationalized media portrayals and wild misinformation, my own DID went unrecognized for years, hidden under layers of shame and fear and confusion. Being open about anxiety or even an eating disorder was one thing. Trying to find the courage to speak about my darkest secret out loud, that I shared a body with multiple alters formed out of great trauma, was entirely another. Would my loved ones accept not just me, Leah Ilana, but the other members of my system I was getting to know in therapy? [continue reading…]

The Promise & Limitations of Awareness

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Becca Block

The month of May is Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS) and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD) Awareness Month. Ehlers Danlos Syndromes are genetic connective disorders generally characterized by joint hypermobility, joint instability, skin hyperextensibility, abnormal scarring, structural weakness, etc. EDSs are currently classified into thirteen types. People with hypermobility spectrum disorders have similar joint symptoms but do not have connective tissue involvement. Dermatosparaxis Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is more common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population than in the general population. In addition, though there has been no official study, Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is anecdotally noted to have a higher incidence in the Ashkenazi Jewish population.

For two communities in particular – healthcare professionals and undiagnosed patients – EDS and HSD Awareness Month is a crucial health communication campaign. Diagnoses typically take years or decades. I was not diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome until I was 21 years old. Though EDSs and HSDs have no cure, symptom treatment and preventative care are essential to maintaining one’s quality of life. [continue reading…]

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