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Faith Inclusion

Learning the Dignity of Risk from the Journey of the Omer

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Matan Koch

As I count the Omer, it is impossible not to think of the seven-week journey. For those of us that have studied Jewish tradition, it is a truism that the Israelites did not leave Egypt primarily to escape slavery but rather to be free to serve God. They took a risk for a reward.

The Israelites were certainly aware of the risk. In what we would now call a good kvetch, they regularly looked at the hardship of the journey and reminisced about the illusory safety and comfort of their enslaved status. Except they weren’t really harkening back to comfort, as forced labor, inhumane conditions, and even the potential risk of death by an overseer, as we read earlier in Exodus, could not have been fond memories. Instead, I think they were lamenting their newfound lack of certainty and the unknown reward in exchange for known risks. [continue reading…]

Jewish Disability Perspectives Introduction for May 20

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Shelly Christensen

I’ve been counting the days since I embarked on my new journey at RespectAbility. Today is Day 20. Four whole weeks; time has flown. I’m happy to report that I feel more confident and am settling into my new routine. It has been wonderful getting to know our Staff and Apprentices and bringing my background, knowledge, and experience to RespectAbility’s mission.

Earlier this week, Matan Koch, Senior Vice President of Strategic Change, and I represented RespectAbility at the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies Conference. The conference reminded me of my roots. More than twenty years ago, I began my career in disability and mental health inclusion in Jewish social services. The conference was a reunion of colleagues and friends and a reminder of how much the human service sector has accomplished over the years. [continue reading…]

New Interfaith Resources

New Resources from AAIDD Religion and Spirituality Interest NetworkInterfaith conversations and programs are a staple of the Religion and Spirituality Network of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD). Every year, the Network produces a webinar series on timely and important concerns with an interfaith approach.

The Network’s 2022 webinar series, “When Hospitality & Belonging Become Hard: Faith Community Strategies for Responding to Adults with Varying Needs,” is now available. Facilitated by the Rev. Bill Gaventa, an esteemed leader in faith inclusion, religious leaders engaged in conversation to share experiences, wisdom, and practical advice from their respective faith traditions. [continue reading…]

The Counting of My Seizures: A Carousel to the Promised Land

At 19 months old, I was put on a medication called phenobarbital, which was “older than Moses.”

My first cognizant memory of being on medication is when my friends asked me, “what does it taste like?” “Cherry.” And so, my fate was sealed. I’d always be the first one asleep at every sleepover.

The very hours I was supposed to be awake, I found myself sleepwalking through life.

“And the seasons they go round and round…”*

Fast forward to middle school, where Aaron Seglin became my voice, knew the questions I wanted to ask and did. He was my clairvoyant. [continue reading…]

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. [continue reading…]

Who Am I?

Riccardo Ricciardi smiling headshot

Riccardo Ricciardi

The summer after my first year in college, I went to Switzerland to visit my relatives. When I got there, I recognized my great aunt Rebecca. She was visiting from Bolivia. This was a wonderful surprise. She possessed an aura of warmth and love for all of us, and that is something I take with me to this day.

I had flown in from New York just in time for Friday night dinner, as I promised the host, my cousin Marcia and her family. The dinner setting was typical: two loaves of bread covered with linen and two candles sitting on the table. Before dinner, we read Psalms. After dinner, my cousin and I decided to question my great aunt, “the keeper of the family secrets,” on her knowledge of the ins and outs of the strange bag of Addams Family type mysteries which had been our childhood. For example, not being allowed to eat pork or shellfish under any circumstance. We also had questions about reading Psalms before having a meal, never mixing dairy and meat, and the most bizarre of them all, how they used to take it upon themselves to eat a ram’s head once a year. After a moment of silence, she took a deep breath and said with solemnity, “somos Judios. We’re Jews.” The second I heard that, I felt as if I were struck by lightning. [continue reading…]

How Do We Make Space for God to Belong?

Matan Koch headshotAs I was reading Shelly’s introductory note, I couldn’t help but reflect on the deep significance of building a house of worship that draws everyone into belonging. I think many of us have probably noted the inherent dichotomy between the Torah’s exclamation that we were all designed in the image of God, with the observable range of difference of humanity. Growing up in a post-Enlightenment Reform household, we were taught that this referred to the best parts of our natures, our love, our altruism, our morality and nobility.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I studied a rabbinic discussion about the treatment of the body that had been executed in a judicial proceeding that I realized that for them the image was quite literal. It begs the question then: how can this be both literal and true? [continue reading…]

“For My House Shall Be a House of Prayer for All Peoples”

“For My House Shall Be a House of Prayer for All Peoples”
Isaiah 56:7

Many faith traditions highlight this text from the book of Isaiah as a longstanding declaration of welcome and inclusion. Perhaps your congregation or organization has a plaque near the main entrance to your building with this quotation, or maybe it’s part of your mission statement or website.

Several years ago, as I prepared to give a keynote talk at a conference on inclusion in faith communities, this line from Isaiah took up residence in my brain, practically begging me to frame my presentation around it. [continue reading…]

Shelly Christensen Joins RespectAbility To Lead Faith Inclusion To New Heights

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Shelly Christensen

Hello Members of the RespectAbility Faith Inclusion Family,

When was the last time you started something new? Was it a new job, a new relationship, or a new stage of your life? Did a new opportunity come into your life unexpectedly?

A month ago, I was happily running my consulting business, working on a new book, and collaborating with colleagues in my Jewish and interfaith work.

And then RespectAbility called me. Would I be interested in talking about the new Director of Faith Inclusion position? The small still voice inside of me called out, “yes!” My practical mind, however, suggested that I think about what a new job would mean for me and for my family, and for the work I have done for over 20 years. I never imagined I would work full time for another organization again.

That small still voice was insistent. “This is bashert,” it said. “Follow the process and get on with it!” I listened to myself, and, just a few weeks later, here I am! [continue reading…]

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