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Jewish Inclusion

Shabbat Smile 5779, Volume 12, 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…]

Shabbat Smile 5779, Vol. 11 – Limmud & Limmud North America

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…]

Shabbat Smile 5779, Volume 9, 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…]

Shabbat Smile 5779, Volume 8 – 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…]

Shabbat Smile 5779, Volume 3 – 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…]

Webinar: “Saving Lives: A Conversation about Suicide Prevention in the Jewish Community”

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


This webinar featured RespectAbility Board Member Linda Burger, MSSW and her colleague, Laurie Morgan Silver, LCSW. Burger is a staunch leader in Houston’s Jewish community, where she is the CEO of Jewish Family Service Houston (JFSH). Silver, a psychotherapist, serves as a consultant with JFSH, where she supports suicide prevention and aftercare and other mental health programs.

Jewish Family Service Houston has developed a number of mental health initiatives to address suicide prevention and aftercare in its community. During this webinar, our leaders reviewed the statistical context as well as the purpose and status of the Mental Health Let’s Talk About It programs and services.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and/or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

[continue reading…]

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

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

Ron Glancz, Vivian Bass, Lauren Appelbaum, Heidi Daroff, Dana Marlowe, Hillary Steen and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Ron Glancz, Vivian Bass, Lauren Appelbaum, Heidi Daroff, Dana Marlowe, Hillary Steen and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi on Jewish Disability Advocacy Day

Survey Responses – Jewish Respondents (PDF)
Survey Responses – People with Disabilities compared to People without Disabilities (PDF)

Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 17 – More than 4000 respondents participated in the “RespectAbility 2018 Jewish Disability Inclusion Survey,” which 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.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as clergy or staff at Jewish institutions and do not fully feel welcomed to serve as leaders in lay positions in the Jewish community either. Only 15 percent of Jews with disabilities know of a person with a disability in leadership. Fewer than 10 percent of Jews without a disability connection know of a person with a disability in leadership. Only 18 percent of people with disabilities answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions.”

“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,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “Many also want to be recruited, trained and empowered to make the Jewish community stronger, just like anyone else.”

Steve Rakitt headshot

Steve Rakitt

Steve Rakitt, President of the Genesis Prize Foundation, added, “It is important that each of us – as participants and as leaders in the Jewish community – be open about our own disabilities.  The fact that most respondents cannot name a Jewish leader with a disability simply highlights that many disabilities are not visibly evident.  By modeling openness and candor, we can change the perception that being a Jewish leader and being a person with a disability are not mutually exclusive.” [continue reading…]

Shabbat Smile 5779, Volume 2 – by Rabbi Sid Schwarz

Rabbi Sid Schwartz headshot

Rabbi Sid Schwarz

14 September 2018/5 Tishrei 5779 – Years ago, I delivered a Yom Kippur sermon called “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise,” in which I challenged synagogues to pay more attention to those in our midst who were “none of the above.” I was pleased that, on the heels of my talk, many families in our congregation who were affected by disability came forward, willing to share with me why they identified so strongly with the sermon. This was good; why should people dealing with disabilities feel the need to hide their personal struggle or that of someone in their family?

It is precisely because our institutions tend to privilege the “abled” that we make people with disabilities feel invisible. Even if they do not experience outright exclusion due to lack of accessibility, many feel shunned when they do show up. Staying invisible may just be easier — but it doesn’t lessen the sense that the Jewish community is a private club catering to those who are indeed, “healthy, wealthy and wise.” [continue reading…]

Inaugural Shabbat Smile 5779

Calling our RespectAbility4All Extended Family to attention!

RespectAbility staff and Fellows celebrating Rosh Hashanah with cookies from Sunflower Bakery

RespectAbility staff and Fellows celebrating Rosh Hashanah with cookies from Sunflower Bakery sent over by Vivian Bass

RespectAbility4All’s inaugural Shabbat Smile leading into 5779 is . . . new, vibrant — and all-inclusive . . .

As with the New Year shofar’s four different calls, each blast echoing divergent rhythms and patterns in our daily life, four of RespectAbility’s new initiatives are `echoed’ at this time. Each solo shofar blast is unique. Yet the sequence of its blasts together magnify the impact, strength, and integrity of inclusion. This symbolizes RespectAbility’s unique and inclusive work. [continue reading…]

Respect Ability - Fighting Stigmas. Advancing Opportunities.

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