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Faith Inclusion

Poll: Most D.C.-area Jews Don’t Know Any Rabbis or Staff with Disabilities

Concerns High on Access to Healthcare, Education, Jobs, Fighting Stigmas and Jewish Inclusion

Washington, D.C., January 7, 2019 – More than 4000 respondents participated in a RespectAbility survey focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith communities in America. This includes 133 Jews in the disability community in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, and an additional 42 with no disability connection in this region. More than 900 Jews who self-disclose they are a person with a disability participated in the study overall.

Text: Do you know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at your own faith based institutions? Pie chart with results.

59% of Jewish D.C.-area respondents with disabilities do not know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at their synagogue.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) region and across the nation point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as Rabbis, cantors or staff at Jewish institutions. While overall things are improving significantly in terms of access and inclusion for Jews with disabilities in the DMV, they also do not yet fully feel welcomed to serve as leaders in lay positions in the Jewish community. Only 15 percent of Jews with disabilities know of a person with a disability in a leadership position. Nationally fewer than 10 percent of Jews with no disability connection know of a person with a disability in leadership. Only 17 percent of area Jews in the disability community answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions,” which is in line with the national results at 18 percent.

Said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, “If you see it, you can be it – and today Jews with disabilities need more role models with disabilities in leadership in the Jewish community. Many also want to be recruited, trained and empowered to make the Jewish community stronger, just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

Poll: Most NY Jews Don’t Know Any Rabbis or Staff with Disabilities

New York Jewish Community on Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities Shows Concerns on Access to Healthcare, Education, Jobs, Fighting Stigmas and Jewish Inclusion

Washington, D.C., Dec. 21 – More than 4000 respondents participated in a RespectAbility survey focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith communities in America. This includes more than 900 individuals who self-disclose that they are a person with a disability. This includes 172 Jews in the disability community in New York, and an additional 75 with no disability connection.

Text: Do you know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at your own faith based institutions? Pie chart with results.

Only 15% of Jewish New York respondents with disabilities know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at their synagogue.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities in New York and across the nation point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as clergy or staff at Jewish institutions. They also do not fully feel welcomed to serve as leaders in lay positions in the Jewish community. Only 15 percent of Jews with disabilities know of a person with a disability in a leadership position. Only seven percent of the New York Jews with no disability connection who were polled know of a person with a disability in leadership. Nationally it is slightly higher at nearly 10 percent. Only 12 percent of New York Jews in the disability community answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions.” This is also six points lower than the national results of 18 percent.

Said Shelley Cohen, co-founder of RespectAbility and leader of the Jewish Inclusion Project, “If you see it, you can be it – and today Jews with disabilities need more role models with disabilities in leadership in the Jewish community. Many also want to be recruited, trained and empowered to make the Jewish community stronger, just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

Update on RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program

When Donn Weinberg, Shelley Cohen and I started RespectAbility, it was an outgrowth of the Jewish Funders Network disability funders group. Amazing people, including Judith Creed, Joan Alexander and others were involved. One thing we all realized is that young leadership is a key to the future, and that talented young people with disabilities need to be a part of advanced leadership training and networking opportunities.

Thanks to an ongoing commitment from Stanford and Joan Alexander, we were able to create our National Leadership Program. Already more than 130 young leaders have graduated from the program. They have gone on to work for the U.S. Congress, White House, numerous government agencies, nonprofits and Jewish organizations. We have three cohorts of approximately a dozen young leaders at a time (up to 36 participants a year in total). These include people who are deaf, blind, have Autism, spina bifida and a wide array of other disabilities. Many of these youth also live with mental health conditions, some as a result of bullying and rejection. It is an inclusion program so we also serve young allies who do not have disabilities. All of the participants are talented. We just did a report on the program, and I invite you to read it HERE. [continue reading…]

Jews and Arabs in Israel Unite by Working Together within the Disability Community: by Dr. Noorit Felsenthal Berger

Jews and Arabs in Israel Unite by Working Together within the Disability Community

Dr. Noorit Felsenthal-Berger headshot

Dr. Noorit Felsenthal-Berger

We live in a diverse and interconnected world that challenges us to learn how to live together in peace. “Coexistence” is a popular buzzword these days, but it’s easy to lose sight of what true coexistence entails.  Living in harmony with others who are different from ourselves is a lofty ideal. To truly live together in harmony, we must be willing to bring “others” – differences and all – into our inner circles. Through my work as an educator, I’ve had the privilege of watching my students rise to this challenge in ways that are often surprising.

I teach an experiential education program on disability inclusion at Ono Academic College in Jerusalem. While it would be worthwhile to develop an entire curriculum focused solely on disability inclusion, my program goes one step further:  it unites young Jewish and Arab students.  In fact, one could say that my program harnesses the power of disability inclusion to bridge the gaps between Jews and Arabs, whose cultures commonly clash, and to diffuse environments that are often politically tense.

When I began my career as a psychologist, I researched youth with special needs and how they learn and interact differently from the general population.  At Ono, I leveraged that research to create a hands-on program in disability studies.  My program quickly became popular with young Arab and Jewish students who were looking for a meaningful way to enact social change within the complex milieu of Israeli society. [continue reading…]

Limmud & Limmud North America: by Eli Ovits

Members of the Limmud La’am Program with some Limmud Inclusion volunteers last year at Limmud Festival smiling together in front of a banner

Members of the Limmud La’am Program with Limmud Inclusion volunteers

For this week’s Shabbat Smile, we are sharing an interview with Limmud, an organization led by Eli Ovits that is working to include Jews with disabilities.

  1. What is the mission of your organization?

Wherever you find yourself, Limmud will take you one step further on your Jewish journey. Limmud’s mission is informed by the following values: Learning, Expanding Jewish Horizons, Enabling Connections, Participation, Empowerment, Community and Mutual Responsibility, Respect, Arguments for the Sake of Heaven, Religious Observance and Diversity. (Details of each value can found here. Please see the details of the Diversity value, as they are applicable to this topic.)

  1. What are your results/performance metrics?

In 2017, Limmud programs reached 40,000 in 42 countries. At the end of 2017, there were more than 90 Limmud communities around the world, led by over 4,000 volunteers. Limmud Festival (Limmud UK’s annual 5-day conference) attracts 2,500-3,000 participants on an annual basis, some 12% who identify as having additional needs. [continue reading…]

A Tribute to David and Cecil Rosenthal: by Josh Goodrich

As we all know, on Shabbat October 27th, The Tree of Life synagogue was holding three congregational services at the same time. One involved a baby naming ceremony. Our name is part of our identity, and our identity is something that we continue to develop as we age. David and Cecil Rosenthal had multiple pieces to their identity. Besides their name, they were brothers, members of the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, “Yinzers”, Americans, and people with disabilities. However, they were both killed because of one aspect of their identity: they were Jewish. Let that sink in. The Rosenthal brothers were victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre because of this one aspect of their identity.

Jews have a history of being subjected to violence. As a child, during the Passover holiday, the older generations taught me about our persecution and enslavement in Egypt. Later, I learned about the Holocaust and the genocide of the Jewish people. I learned how Jews had to flee their homes, places they once thought were safe, so they would not have their name and their identity stripped away, replaced by a tattooed number on their forearms. As an adult I thought the violence against Jews had ended—at least in the U.S. I thought that the historical hatred was fading. On October 27th, the perpetrator reminded me and all fellow Jews and humanity of the evil in the world. The perpetrator reminded the Jewish community that some people hate us. The perpetrator, whose name I refuse to write, decided to act upon this evil and hatred.

When there is a tragedy, rather than focusing on the perpetrator and his identity, it is important to talk about and remember the victims. David and Cecil were 54 and 59 years old, respectively. They both had developmental disabilities and lived independently in a group home. Their home. They received residential supports through ACHIEVA, an organization that supports and empowers people with intellectual disabilities and their families. Achieva also helps find permanent jobs for people with disabilities, increasing Pittsburgh’s progress in hiring people with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Hineni: by Debbie Niderberg

Debbie Niderberg headshot

Debbie Niderberg

One of the most powerful words we come across in Breishit – Genesis – is “Hineni” – I am here. When Abraham answers, he is responding to a call to action.

Hineni evokes a profound and timeless message about responsibility for our world and our community. A central question for educators and parents is how are we raising and empowering all of our children, to find their voice and their place in our community?

Although I direct an organization that supports struggling learners, it was not until this year, when I participated in an intensive, year-long Israeli leadership program in my non-dominant language, that I experienced what it was like to have a learning disability.

As the only native English speaker, I estimate that I was working five times harder than the Israeli participants. With each presentation, I was listening to try to understand the discourse, translating it for myself to take notes in English, thinking about what I wanted to say and how to say it with my limited word bank, and trying to jump into the rapid fire Israeli dialogue. In leadership roles and facilitation, I continuously strategized based on what I felt I was equipped to handle. I adapted to different cultural norms and tried to jump in to the fast paced banter of Israeli jokes and references that were often foreign to me. [continue reading…]

Vivian Bass: The Powerful and Necessary Bonds Between Nonprofit Staff and Board Members

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows in front of the RespectAbility banner

Vivian Bass with RespectAbility Staff and Fellows

Rockville, Maryland, Oct. 8 – After a successful career of more than 40 years as a nonprofit CEO, Vivian Bass, currently a board member of RespectAbility, visited the Fellows of RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program.  She shared her knowledge about nonprofit boards and gave advice on how to build better relationships between staff and board members.

As the former CEO of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, she has contributed greatly to the disability community, so it was only natural that she was one of our speakers. As young professionals, we still are navigating the workforce, struggling with networking and negotiating workplace conflicts. According to Bass, there are five characteristics that strengthen the bond between staff and board members in a nonprofit: mutual respect, no surprises, transparency, accountability and partnership. [continue reading…]

Webinar: “RespectAbility 2018 National Jewish Disability Inclusion Survey”

Featuring Special Guests Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility President and Meagan Buren, RespectAbility Pollster

Read the webinar transcript
Download the accessible PowerPoint
Watch the webinar on YouTube with live embedded captions


Our speakers were RespectAbility’s President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and its Pollster, Meaghan Buren. Mizrahi is a national leader in disability advocacy. Buren is a pollster who has led multiple national polls on a variety of topics, including disability and Jewish issues.

[continue reading…]

A Leap Of Faith: by Geoffrey W. Melada

Hillel students meet with activist and community organizer Ola Ojewumi at the 2017 Ruderman Inclusion Summit

Hillel students meet with activist and community organizer Ola Ojewumi at the 2017 Ruderman Inclusion Summit (photo by Geoffrey Melada)

Three years ago this week, I took a leap of faith when I left behind a long career in journalism to become the communications director for Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish campus organization.

I believe in Hillel’s mission, but I worried that leaving journalism meant the end of telling great human interest stories – stories about people who change, grow and overcome obstacles.

I was wrong.

Three years into my job, I find that these stories are all around me. You will probably not be surprised to learn, as a supporter of RespectAbility, that some of the most compelling Hillel stories involve disability inclusion. [continue reading…]

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