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Faith Inclusion

Center for Special Needs at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan: by Allison Kleinman

This week’s Shabbat Smile was written by Allison Kleinman, Founding Director of The Jack and Shirley Silver Center for Special Needs + Adaptations at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.

As another program year comes to an end at The Jack and Shirley Silver Center for Special Needs (CSN) at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, we are incredibly proud of the transformative work of our team of staff, as well as the achievements of our participants and families. Through our programs and events this past year, we have enriched the lives of over 1,200 individuals and their families, connecting them to friends, employment, and community. [continue reading…]

New Book on Jewish Ethics Unlocks Hidden Insight on Disability & Philanthropy

I’m not a rabbi, nor am I a formal book reviewer. But I found “The Sacred Exchange: Creating A Jewish Money Ethic,” edited by Rabbi Mary Zamore, to be a thought provoking “must read” for Jewish philanthropists and fundraisers alike.

I originally bought the book because Rabbi Daniel (“Danny”) Allen wrote the chapter “Tzedakah and Aliyah: How American Jews Helped Build Israel,” about his lifelong passion – enabling Jews to build and strengthen Israel and the Jewish people.

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Inclusion in Israeli Synagogues: by Zvia Admon

This week’s Shabbat Smile was written by disability advocate and attorney Zvia Admon, focusing on inclusion in Israeli synagogues.

How can we make Israeli congregations more accessible, inclusive and welcoming for people with disabilities and their families?  How can we make sure that people with disabilities are able to fully participate in all activities, together with their families and friends, and that they feel welcomed and valued?

This is a challenge I’ve recently decided to take on. I’ve been active in the disability rights field since I passed the bar in the 1990s. My involvement was initially based on a desire to promote justice and equal rights, and have some vision and hearing impairments myself. [continue reading…]

Israel, World Leader in Accessibility: by Jon Polin

This week’s Shabbat Smile, written by the talented Jon Polin, will show you how Israel is expanding its life-enhancing technologies and success as a global leader in accessibility.

On the heels of impressive strides in public policy and rehabilitative care, technology is now poised to be the third rung to catapult Israel to be the world leader in accessibility. As Howard Blas covered in the June 13, 2019 Shabbat Smile, last month’s Access IsraelFuture of Accessibility” conference gathered leaders from major US cities and 22 countries looking to Israel for policy and planning inspiration. (If the 3000 year old Old City of Jerusalem is now accessible, what excuse do modern cities have?) And in rehabilitative care, Israeli facilities from Sheba Medical Center to Beit Issie Shapiro to ALYN and many others are pioneering new therapy techniques that regularly draw global visitors to learn the latest and greatest in the world of therapies. 

Now, the emerging Israeli assistive technology ecosystem is ready to service increasing global demand. (The World Health Organization says that globally, more than 1 billion people need one or more assistive products, as people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority group.) Why will Israel soon be the world leader in assistive technology? [continue reading…]

Respectability Smile Access Israel: by Howard Blas

Attendees at Access Israel's conference together outside the Holy site in Jerusalem, many of them wheelchair users.

Credit: Access Israel/Howard Blas

This week’s Shabbat Smile was written by Howard Blas about a recent Access Israel conference.

Yuval Wenger knows a thing or two about accessibility and inclusion in Israel—and he has been sharing it with Israel and the international community for over two decades. As Founder and President of Access Israel, the NGO that promotes accessibility in Israel, he spoke at its recent international conference.

Yuval depicted Israel’s transformation in accessibility through his family’s own story: he grew up with a father in a wheelchair, and later became a wheelchair user himself. As a child, Yuval simply accepted the fact that he and his siblings would have to help their father navigate the inaccessible world of Israel. This sometimes meant carrying him to get places. [continue reading…]

Leading the Way Towards Inclusion for All

This week’s Shabbat Smile is written by Adam Fishbein, a self-advocate and RespectAbility Fellow.

My religious school experience at Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA had its ups and downs. As a child with multiple disabilities that made it difficult, and often disruptive, for me to function in a classroom environment, my parents initially had to push the synagogue to accept my differences and adapt to them. They would have constant meetings with the religious school director about my disruptive behavior and how to handle it. Then, in third grade, the then-new cantor at my synagogue, Rebecca Schwartz, started a student choir. She drew me in through her welcoming spirit and love for music. I found instantaneous inspiration. Sunday choir rehearsal became my favorite time of the week. I loved the process of learning, practicing and, eventually, singing Jewish music at Friday night Shabbat services. I found the focus I lacked in secular and religious school. I found acceptance from my fellow choir members. I found something I was good at and, most importantly, I found the voice that would shape my future.

Meanwhile, my parents and religious school staff worked diligently to adapt the religious school curriculum to my needs. While the student choir had opened the door to my synagogue, my fifth grade (and favorite) religious school teacher, Roz Holtzman, led me further inside during sixth and seventh grade, through my one-on-one instruction and Bar Mitzvah prep. This flexibility and reduced-distraction environment allowed me to learn more effectively and become a Bar Mitzvah at the end of seventh grade, despite my increasing behavioral challenges in adolescence with Tourette Syndrome Repeated Anger-Generated Episodes (RAGEs) at home and school. [continue reading…]

A Very Meaningful Graduation: by Stacey Herman

Two separate images of Project Search interns at Kennedy Krieger Institute working

Photo Credit: Kennedy Krieger Institute

In a few days, I’ll be at a graduation—not an unusual event for this time of year, but this graduation will be unique.

It’ll be the culmination of a year of intense learning and internship experiences for six young adults from across the state of Maryland, all of whom have developmental and/or other disabilities. They’ll be graduating from a program called Project SEARCH, which was carefully designed to support individuals with disabilities transition to adulthood by teaching them the skills they need to live in the community at-large, and to find and keep gainful employment.

All six are unique individuals, beloved by their families, friends, teachers and mentors, each with their own dreams and goals, and special, unique talents to offer the workplace. They want to be a part of the world—to live as independently as possible, and to work and contribute to society. They’ve worked so hard this past year, and I can’t wait to celebrate them at their graduation. [continue reading…]

A House of Prayer For All Peoples: by Shelly Christensen

Shelly Christensen smiling

Shelly Christensen

For my house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples. Isaiah 56:7

The great disability rights advocate, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, z’l’ said, “We don’t welcome people with disabilities because they have disabilities. We welcome them because they are people.”

Becoming a house of prayer for all peoples involves much more than an open door. As I was writing my new book, From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community, I wondered if there was more to this verse that might help people understand how important belonging is to people.

Synagogues often turn to Isaiah 56:7 which reads, in part, “my house shall be called a House of Prayer for all peoples.” I noticed that in all of the conversations and planning, synagogues and community organizations were focused on the process of HOW to be inclusive, but rarely considered asking people with disabilities how they want to feel – the critical sense of belonging—where their hopes, dreams, needs, and talents become central to “inclusion.” [continue reading…]

My Re-Bat Mitzvah: by Rachel Kunstadt

This week’s Shabbat Smile is by Rachel Kunstadt, a mental health advocate and self-advocate in NYC. Her presentation at our Empowerment Training for Jewish Women with Disabilities – entitled “Choosing Life!” – included a musical performance of a song she co-wrote, addressing her agoraphobia.

This past January, I became a Bat Mitzvah for the second time. Or maybe for the first time, depending on how you look at it.

Like every other 13-year-old at my conservative synagogue in Westchester County did that year, on January 11, 2003, I became a Bat Mitzvah. I chanted Torah and Haftorah and delivered a D’Var Torah, while my parents spent thousands of dollars on a party to keep up with the Steins.

I’m told it was a beautiful service, but I was so overcome with anxiety that it’s almost completely lost to me. I definitely don’t remember the party – because I didn’t go. I managed to stay about an hour before I had a massive panic attack. [continue reading…]

Israel has a lot to celebrate!

Israel has a lot to celebrate – and we can and should take the time to kvell. A big part of the success is how Israel leads the world on several key innovations when it comes to disability.

I know that you’ve likely seen ReWalk, the exoskeleton that enables people who are paralyzed to “walk”. But what you may not know is that recently five Israeli organizations were given awards at the United Nations for their breakthrough work on helping people with disabilities. How do I know this? I was honored to be there to accept an award on behalf of RespectAbilitity. However, one of the best parts of being in Vienna to accept our award was that I got to meet more than 30 unbelievably driven, giving and fantastic Israelis who are on the front lines of improving the lives of people with disabilities. Hence, I’d like to share information with you on these leaders and their groups so you can kvell!

Read more in e-Jewish Philanthropy

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