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Faith Inclusion

JF&CS CHAI Works Serves Food and Smiles at Jewish Day Schools: by Sue Stellick

A CHAI Works-South participant wearing a purple shirt and hat inside a kitchen preparing lunch at The Rashi School in Dedham, MA.

A CHAI Works-South participant preparing lunch at The Rashi School in Dedham, MA.

“It’s awesome to see our participants smiling when we’re at a volunteer site,” said Bri Nichols, a Program Coordinator for JF&CS CHAI Works. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a frown!”

CHAI Works is a community-based day program for adults with disabilities offered through Jewish Family & Children’s Service. With locations in Waltham and Canton, CHAI Works helps participants become more independent, pursue individual goals, and experience the gratification of meaningful, productive activity throughout the week.

Volunteering in the community is an important and popular part of the CHAI Works experience. “It gives the participants a sense of pride…it’s a way for them to give back,” said Nichols. “Volunteering is all about upholding the dignity of the participants.” [continue reading…]

Building an Inclusive Sanctuary for All People: by Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

At the beginning of the holiday season, Rabbi Daniel Dorsch delivered a sermon from his brand new, inclusive sanctuary at Congregation Etz Chaim. Read his entire sermon, republished with his permission, below.

I met Anna (not her real name) for the first time when I was a chaplain at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I was a rabbinical student at 25, and she was a 21 year old college student, sucking a lolly pop lying in bed, and a patient at the hospital.

Not an uncommon question for an awkward, new chaplain, I sat down in her room next to her bed, and asked what brought her there. That’s when Anna began her story by showing me that she didn’t have any legs. And she told me she was in the hospital because someone had died and left her all of their organs for a multiple organ transplant, which she desperately needed to live. The lolly pop it turned out, was not for fun; it was medicine to help improve her chances of the transplant taking. [continue reading…]

How Mechilah Can Give Us a Model to Go Forward on Inclusion

Many of us spend time leading up to the high holidays helping congregations and organizations prepare to fully respectfully welcome Jews with disabilities into our communities and rituals. Most of the training is good, and the organizations are almost always earnest. Hence, we can get really optimistic and expect that everything needed will be implemented. And yet, as much as we are excited about the idea of how inclusive things will be, we must also always be aware that they will not be perfect every time.

When Yom Kippur ends, and people start taking stock of the inclusion efforts at their synagogue for the holidays, there will be stories, probably at every congregation in the world, where inclusion did not happen the way we might have wanted.  There will be mix-ups, misses and unanticipated situations. [continue reading…]

As We Take an Accounting of Our Souls and Ourselves, a Lesson in Inclusion

Perhaps the most universal theme in the High Holy Days is what our tradition calls a cheshbon ha-nefesh — the accounting of the soul — that Jews do leading up them.

Many may not use Jewish law as their barometer, but most prepare for a new year with an examination of our past year and our actions. Judaism teaches us that the forgiveness of Yom Kippur depends upon an honest, searching and then sparing self-assessment in the month before Rosh Hashanah: the good, the bad, the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Whether we think our conduct is judged solely by ourselves, by our society or by God, we all recognize the goal is to be the best versions of ourselves, which we can’t really work on without self-knowledge. [continue reading…]

If Moses Could Lobby Pharaoh, You Can ‘Lobby’ to Make the World a Better Place

Moses was the original Jewish political activist and lobbyist. He organized his thoughts and priorities, then went to the top powers to demand action. What’s more, God made it clear the choice of Moses, complete with his speech disability, was intentional, leading many to believe that Moses’ experience as a person with a physical disability was of great value.

Whether you are interested in fighting anti-Semitism, strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship or fighting for better public schools and jobs for people who have disabilities here at home, don’t leave civic engagement to special interest lobbyists. [continue reading…]

From 9/11 to Today

It’s been 18 years since 9/11. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was shocked, saddened, scared. There were the heroes who went up the towers to save lives and who died. There were thousands of other heroes helping in thousands of other ways and places. The way that America pulled together, and the way that our allies stood with us, it was amazing.

Before 9/11, I was very partisan. Indeed, I was an official spokesperson of a national political party and was on TV regularly for “spin”. One of the people I was “up against” on TV was Republican/conservative spokesperson Barbara Olson. Olson was one of the thousands who were murdered on 9/11. I disagreed with her on many things — but she was never disagreeable. She was a human being just like all the other victims. [continue reading…]

Doug Jarett: How one person can make a difference

Doug Jarett smiling wearing a red bandana around his neck.

Doug Jarett

On August 18, 2019, Douglas Jarett, a 51-year-old mensch with Down Syndrome, died unexpectedly. Obviously, it is a tragedy when someone so young dies, especially when it is someone as beloved as Doug. However, I’m making Doug our “shabbat smile” because the impact of his life was enormous and he always made me and others smile. He really broke glass ceilings and made such a big difference in the world!

Doug had been living in the community with friends through supports from Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence (JCHAI) and had worked for over 30 years at Ludington Library in Lower Merion Township. Thirty years ago, how many people with Down syndrome were in the workforce? Very few. He broke the mold. [continue reading…]

Teaching People with Disabilities to Bake: by Sara Milner and Sunflower Bakery

L-R: Sara Portman Milner, teen Sunflower program participant, Chef Marion Pitcher, smiling together with their arms around each other inside a kitchenSunflower Bakery is a very popular kosher, pareve Bakery serving the Greater Washington DC Metro Area. We produce unique and delicious pastries, including new menus for all seasons and holidays. Our products are sold at our Café Sunflower in a warm and welcoming environment with extraordinary customer service. Producing outstanding products is one of the keys to Sunflower’s success; producing skilled, well-trained employees for other local food establishments is our raison d’être.

Sunflower Bakery and Café Sunflower are dedicated to providing skilled job training and employment for adults 18+ with learning differences in pastry arts, production baking, barista service and front-of-house operations. Since 2010, Sunflower Bakery has produced 81 Pastry Arts graduates and 10 graduates of our Café Sunflower Employment Training Program. The employment rate of our graduates is high above the 19.1% national employment rate for individuals with disabilities. In fact, of this spring’s graduating class of 14 Pastry Arts students, 88% secured employment within six months of graduating! [continue reading…]

Embracing the Religious Obligations of the ADA Rather than the Faith Exemption: by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

Friday, July 26th marks the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This anniversary should be celebrated by all Jews, as it is so consistent with our values. Indeed, perhaps the first recorded instance of a workplace accommodation is found in the Torah when God commissions Moshe to lead the people out of Egypt. In response to Moses’ claim that he cannot fulfill the mission because he is “slow of speech and slow of tongue,” God says that he will also send Aaron and “tell both of you what to do and he shall speak for you to the people.” The ADA furthered the foundational American principle of equality and ensured that disabled persons, like Moshe, received the accommodations they need in order to fulfill their higher purpose and live with dignity in the world. [continue reading…]

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