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Jewish Inclusion

Finding the Place Where I Belong

Lily Coltoff smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Lily Coltoff

Erdenheim, Pa., Mar. 27 – As I sit in my childhood home outside of Philadelphia in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, now almost two weeks after having been uprooted from my “new” life I was starting in DC, it seems only natural that my mind should wander to happier, “easier” times – many of which only happened one month ago. Four weeks ago, COVID-19 was just coming on our radar, having had only just jumped from the international pages to the bottom of the front page. My mind was elsewhere – primarily focused on Jewish disability advocacy.

It’s strange to think that, right now, I’m working in a field that, only a few short years ago, I had absolutely no idea existed. [continue reading…]

Raise Your Voice to Save Disabled Lives

Matan Koch headshot

Matan Koch

I am a proud Jew. I am also a 38-year-old quadriplegic with asthma. Millions of Americans – myself included – are at high risk from the virus and from medical rationing. Sadly, the de facto devaluation of disabled lives in healthcare is nothing new, but there is a current push to make it policy. It is always hard to determine the best way to allocate scarce resources, but Jewish tradition teaches that every life is of incalculable worth. Doctors will have to make enough tough choices, about who is likely to survive, and already will have to make the terrible judgment about who can survive without say, a ventilator, and who will die even if they have one.

Let us not compound this challenge by asking our doctors to place subjective value on individual lives, both because it is unfair to them and because any such subjectivity would necessarily disadvantage those whose life experience is very different from that of the doctor, including people with disabilities. After accounting for likelihood of survival, first-come first-served is the only rational way to decide between two lives of incalculable value. [continue reading…]

New Accessible Jewish Paradigm shifts in the Wake of COVID-19: by Rabbi Lauren Tuchman

This week has been a challenging and uncertain one for our world. As we are unmoored by the health and economic crisis as well as temporary closures of the mainstays of our lives, the rhythms of our days feel off, and we don’t know when normalcy will return. This can be especially concerning to those of us who are Jews with disabilities, who are facing even greater unknowns. Yet, the Jewish tradition is one of continuing adaptation.

After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, the rabbis realized that the world they once knew was no more, gone overnight. How were they to move forward and preserve our ancient, precious tradition? Their solution was to make Judaism portable through the compiling and codification of the Mishnah and Gemara which we call the Talmud. This innovative spirit continues today. [continue reading…]

Mental Health in Israel and Beyond: by Hilla Hadas

“Remember to look at life accurately and to utilize every moment.”

Overhead view of homes in Israel from a balconyShabbat Shalom, and a peaceful Sabbath to you all. My name is Hilla Hadas. I have been the CEO of ENOSH – the Israeli Mental Health Association – for the past 13 years. My academic background includes a Ph.D. in Life Sciences. I live in Israel and reside in the city of Modi’in, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Enosh was established 42 years ago by brave mothers who wished to support their loved ones – people with psychosocial disabilities – and their family members. Our organization has become the leading voice of people with psychosocial disabilities, fighting stigma and raising awareness.

Through the years, Enosh established a holistic approach to community mental health services and has spearheaded innovative rehabilitation services. These services are based on a personal approach and recovery model in areas of supportive housing, supportive employment, social and recreational activities, and family support.

Today, as Israel’s leading organization offering community mental health services and advocating for the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities, Enosh runs more than 60 centers nationwide; employs 850 passionate and dedicated professionals; and utilizes 800 volunteers. Each day, Enosh supports 6,700 people with psychosocial disabilities, their family members, and their caregivers. Each day, I am honored to lead Enosh and to see the impact we are making in Israel and abroad.

We understand the importance of early interventions and have developed several cutting edge programs over the past few years. One program, serving youth, is called “headspace”, and is based on an Australian model. Another program is our training model for trauma-informed care, called “Seeds of Change.” It is paving the way for a best practice mental health approach with staff education and tailored services, benefiting clients, their families and caregivers, and the community at large.

The Israeli Community Mental Health Rehabilitation Law is one of the advanced laws for community based mental health services around the world and it is recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Health. Our community service abides by the Ministry’s policy and is executed accordingly.

For the first time in the history of Israel’s high-profile 71st Israeli Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem (May 2019), mental health was brought to the forefront of the stage, when I was honored to represent Enosh as I lit its torch during the ceremony entitled “The Israeli Spirit.”

This was a pivotal opportunity to share our nation’s achievements in mental health and to challenge the Israeli public to recognize the importance of mental health; to eradicate the stigma towards people with psychosocial disabilities; and to respect and appreciate them, their families, and those providing rehabilitation services.

My hope is that the stigma associated with mental health in Israel will vanish. To do so we need more  resources allocated to community based mental health services, to early intervention and prevention, and to supporting caregivers and family members.

I want to share with you my message to the audience in Israel* and to expand the message globally, in memory of my beloved husband Boaz (z”l) and daughter Adi (z”l):

“I, Hilla, daughter of Hadassah, may she rest in peace, and Yechiel, may he enjoy a long life, of the Abbo family, light this Torch. 

In honor of those who are coping with mental health issues and their families, who seek help in overcoming difficulties related to mental illness, including the social stereotypes, who strive to live meaningful lives free from blame, shame or stigma.

In honor of all the courageous mothers, the founders of ENOSH- The Israel Mental Health Association; and all active volunteers and staff in grassroots organizations, through the power of their faith, love, and support – they shape the fabric of Israeli life.

In honor of my exceptional colleagues, both women and men, who lead with their hearts in mental health treatment and rehabilitation.

In honor of my beloved Boaz and Adi, who left me to carry on the beacon of hope.

To the Glory of the State of Israel!”


Hilla Hadas smiling headshot seated in front of a treeDr. Hadas is the Executive Director of ENOSH, the leading mental health organization in Israel. She has initiated innovative collaborations and has broadened the reach of mental health services and policy in Israel. Dr. Hadas is a member of the roundtable in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and a member of the Advisory Committee to the Israeli Commissioner for the Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She is a board member of several organizations in the Israeli civil society and academia.

In our weekly Shabbat Smiles, RespectAbility welcomes a wide spectrum of voices. The views expressed in each Shabbat Smile are those of the guest contributor.

The Shabbat Smile is curated and edited by Debbie Fink, RespectAbility’s Director of Community Outreach and Impact and Vivian Bass, RespectAbility Executive Committee Board Member. If you would like to write a Shabbat Smile, please email Debbie at DebbieF@RespectAbility.org.

Teachable Moments for Classrooms during JDAIM and Beyond: by Meredith Polsky

Meredith Polsky smiling outside headshot. Text: Shabbat SmileThe Matan team is proud to recognize Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), by providing a free resource, which can be used year-round: Matan’s JDAIM lesson plans can be downloaded at matankids.org/jdaim-lesson-plans. These lesson plans are designed for use by congregational and Jewish day school educators. With these resources, any teacher can guide their students through important themes, interactive activities and meaningful Jewish discussions about disability. As importantly, the lessons serve as models for teachers to think about accessibility in all of their lesson planning going forward.

The lesson plans are divided into 3 sections: Kindergarten to 2nd grade, 3rd to 5th grade and Middle and High School. Each section contains various options so that an instructor can decide which is the best fit. Every lesson follows the same general format, which includes: [continue reading…]

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin Meets Soldiers with Disabilities: by Daniel Peri

Israeli President Rivlin and Special in Uniform soldiers smile together in front of Israeli flags, standing on stepsKick-starting the month of February and the recognition of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAAIM), President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin of Israel met with a group of young men and women from the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) volunteer corps. The honored guests met with the president for demonstrating their unwavering willpower and determination to proudly serve their country despite their disabilities.

Among the 20 soldiers present at the reception was Liron Natan of Jerusalem, who serves at the Palmachim Air Force Base as part of Special in Uniform, the IDF’s world-acclaimed inclusion program. During the meeting, President Rivlin invited Liron to share her heartwarming story. [continue reading…]

Erev JDAD Convenes Jewish Self-Advocates and Leaders From Around the Country

A group of individuals with disabilities, two seated in wheelchairs, smiling for the camera

Erev-JDAD participants

Washington, D.C., Feb. 7 – More than 80 Jewish disability advocates joined together for the inaugural Erev JDAD – the eve before Jewish Disability Advocacy Day – to discuss a variety of important topics regarding disability inclusion. Having surveyed attendees’ interests beforehand, hot topics covered twice-over were civic engagement and advocacy, leadership development, synagogue inclusion, and employment. Other topic discussions included self-advocacy, housing, fundraising, early childhood education, Jewish camping, and fighting stigmas.

While JDAD – a day of civic education and lobbying organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – has been in existence for 10 years, this is the first formal gathering bringing some of the advocates that come in from across the country together to collaborate. Conceived by RespectAbility, the idea of Erev JDAD was to enable JDAD attendees from around the country to be able to have more time to network with each other – sharing their community’s best practices and planting the seeds for new ones. [continue reading…]

Erev-JDAD Convening

An evening of brainstorming & networking for leading voices in Jewish disability inclusion, presented by JFNA, RAC, RespectAbility and Edlavitch DCJCC.

Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) is a tremendous gathering of people who share a commitment to Jewish inclusion.  [continue reading…]

Announcing a New Jewish Inclusion Webinar Series

Five RespectAbility jewish team members smiling and laughing with their arms around each other. Text: 2020 Jewish Inclusion Webinar Series
Shabbat Shalom,

This Shabbat begins the month of February, better known to the Jewish disability world as JDAIM, Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (the “A” now stands for two words). It is a month full of activity in the Jewish world. As this Shabbat comes to a close, I will fly from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., both to attend Jewish Federation of North America’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) and to co-host Erev-JDAD, a gathering the eve before, of nearly 80 JDAD attendees, to brainstorm around pressing issues facing the Jewish disability community, and to invigorate collaboration. I will report back on that in next week’s Shabbat Smile, but for this week I wanted to make a pitch to you about the importance of making sure that this work is a year-round endeavor. [continue reading…]

Accessible Together: by Access Israel

It’s a great time for those of us who care about people with disabilities. Our voter guide is out and you can see it and much more at www.VoteAbility.com. I also just heard from my friend and disability hero, Howard Blas who is Director-National Ramah Tikvah Network, about some very exciting projects. The first is that the Ramah team is continuing to grow their vocational training for people with disabilities. Secondly, his project on identifying creative job sites for people with disabilities continues. You can check out many success stories here: https://howardblas.com/disabilities/job-sites/

Soon Howard is off to Tanzania to climb Kiliminjaro with a fabulous Israeli disability organization, Access Israel. Check out the press release below. WOW, right? They are going to have a blast.
[continue reading…]

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