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Jewish Inclusion

A Vision Beyond Inclusion: by Jacki Edry

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Jacki Edry

I have a dream I would like to share with you. On second thought, it’s not actually a dream. It’s a vision that stems from a deep longing. I am a neurodivergent individual, a survivor of complex brain surgery. I am also a parent of children with neurodiversity – including autism, ADHD, auditory and sensory processing disorders, dyslexia, Irlen syndrome, and more.

Our family has spent many years struggling with non-inclusive or semi-inclusive educational settings and communities. It has been challenging. Despite this, I have tremendous faith that society can become more inclusive and welcoming through awareness and understanding. [continue reading…]

Survey of Greater Washington, D.C. Jews Marks Improvement on Jewish Disability Inclusion

Survey of 172 Jews in the D.C. community shows progress, while identifying areas in need of continued improvement

Washington, D.C., January 7 – In a recently released major survey of 2,321 Jewish individuals nationwide, RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, in partnership with Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, surveyed 172 members of the D.C. Jewish community. This allowed a deep look into disability inclusion in D.C., as well as a strong and meaningful comparison to the national numbers. Of the 172 respondents, 143 either personally have a disability or have a close disability connection. The survey demonstrates that Jewish communal organizations are making strong progress toward building a more inclusive community for people with physical, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.

The data showed that 68 percent of D.C. area Jewish respondents felt the Jewish community was “better” at “including people with disabilities” compared to five years ago. Only one percent felt that the community was doing “somewhat worse.”

“More and more Jewish institutions now understand that we are a stronger community when we are welcoming, diverse, and respect one another,” said RespectAbility VP Matan Koch. “The numbers in the D.C. area show the results of strong leadership, values and practices in the Jewish community.” [continue reading…]

Survey of Houston Jews Marks Improvement on Jewish Disability Inclusion

Survey of 192 Jews in the Houston community shows progress, while identifying areas in need of continued improvement

Houston, TX, Dec. 23 – In a recently released major survey of 2,321 Jewish individuals nationwide, RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of community, in partnership with JFS Houston, surveyed 192 members of the Houston Jewish community. This allowed a deep look into disability inclusion in Houston, as well as a strong and meaningful comparison to the national numbers. Of the 192 respondents, 160 either personally have a disability or have a close disability connection. The survey demonstrates that Jewish communal organizations are making strong progress toward building a more inclusive community for people with physical, sensory, mental health and other disabilities.

The data showed that 67 percent of Houston Jewish respondents felt the Jewish community was “better” at “including people with disabilities” compared to five years ago. Not a single respondent felt that the community was doing “worse.” [continue reading…]

New Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund Grant Opens Opportunity to Hire Jews with Disabilities

RespectAbility is Seeking Three Talented Jews with Disabilities Who Want to Work in Fundraising or Development

RespectAbility team members on a Zoom meeting giving a thumbs up and smiling

RespectAbility Apprentices and Staff

Los Angeles, CA, December 10 – RespectAbility is pleased to announce the opportunity for three talented Jews with disabilities to join the inaugural cohort of our Jewish Development Apprenticeship. This “earn-while-you-learn” opportunity builds on our many years of success training talented college graduates with disabilities to work in the nonprofit sector. Thanks in part to the generosity of the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund (JVPF), we have an opportunity to adapt this program to target the skills needed for working in the Jewish sector, and place our graduates with Los Angeles based and other Jewish nonprofits.

Apprentices will gain skills and experience while working alongside RespectAbility for the first part of their apprenticeship. They will then take these skills to a development placement at another Jewish nonprofit, where they will contribute to the mission while demonstrating their capability. Through their success, the Jewish community at large will see the capability of Jews with disabilities. [continue reading…]

Alex Howard Finds His Birthright During An Extra Holy Chanukkah

Alexander Howard smiling headshot

Alex Howard

I have always felt different, which I attribute to my disabilities. I have low vision, which I recently found out is due to a rare genetic disorder called MEPAN but I spent most of my life being undiagnosed. I also have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which effects my walking and physical activity. I feel that I am alone, because these disabilities are so rare on their own, but to have both together is almost unheard of, and I feel that no one quite understands my struggles.

Around the holiday season, being Jewish and celebrating Chanukkah has also made me feel different. In Los Angeles, most of the stores where people would buy decorations and food for Christmas have a very limited selection of Chanukkah decorations. Chanukkah always seemed to take a backseat to Christmas.

Five years ago, I went on a Birthright trip to Israel during Chanukkah. Israel, felt like a paradise. There are town squares with giant menorahs and shops with displays full of jelly donuts. Chanukkah there is like Christmas here. For the first time I did not feel different at this time of year for being Jewish. Interestingly, I also did not feel excluded or separated due to my disability. [continue reading…]

A Chanukkah To Remember, by Jake Stimell

Chanukah menorah with all 9 candles litRespectAbility’s Chanukkah celebration this year was one to remember. We had a wonderful celebration for community building, Chanukkah lessons, values, and celebrating some of the awesome speakers in RespectAbility’s Disability Training & Speakers Bureau.

RespectAbility held candle lighting events during seven of the nights of Chanukkah. Given the virtual nature of the events, we did not hold one on Shabbat. At a time when we had not seen our RespectAbility family and many of our loved ones for a while, this was an opportunity to bring people together. It felt like a miracle that we were able to spend Chanukkah together. It was a time to celebrate the holidays virtually and safely, as many office and community holiday parties have been cancelled this year. [continue reading…]

Carly Okyle Shares the Light of Books

Carly Okyle headshot smiling. Okyle is white, has long brown hair and is wearing glasses.

Carly Okyle

I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation I was in. There I was on a beautiful spring day, with sunlight streaming through the windows and birds chirping outside, reading “Grover’s Eight Nights of Light” to my (at the time) 10-month-old son Phoenix. He’d been obsessed with this book for weeks, and when he occasionally wanted to hear a different story, his go-to was “Elmo’s Little Dreidel,” despite it being just as seasonally inappropriate.

I used to love reading, so much so that I’d get reprimanded by my parents for having my reading light on well past midnight when I had school the next day. Now that my personal free time has been taken over by my son, I get joy from reading with him. I revel in the bliss of holding him close on my lap as we turn pages, and I match his excitement as he points to familiar objects and characters in the pictures. Still, I wondered if I should try to steer him toward more secular books – or at least toward stories that don’t specifically reference the winter season when we were days away from Memorial Day. [continue reading…]

Why I Chose RespectAbility

Nicole Olarsch smiling headshot

Nicole Olarsch

My Jewish experience was challenging in college. Something I was once so passionate about and looked forward to on a weekly basis slowly started to become something I dreaded. Due to the nature of my disabilities, the traditional ways of doing Jewish activities and prayers didn’t work for me. To be more specific, Friday night Shabbat services were held upstairs in the Hillel building. However, since I cannot walk up stairs and use leg braces, I was unable to participate in those services. As a result, Hillel moved them downstairs to the living room area. It was pretty clear to the group why services had been changed – I walked into the building in these big, bulky leg braces, and services were moved downstairs. Some people weren’t happy about the change. Sometimes, people get stuck in traditions that they know and love, while forgetting that we can still make changes to be more inclusive.

During my senior year of undergrad, I received an email from Jake Stimell, who works at RespectAbility and runs the Speaker’s Bureau. Jake had gone to the same college as me, and graduated a year prior, so it was wonderful to hear from him about the Apprenticeship opportunity! While I had known about RespectAbility’s work for quite some time, I wasn’t aware of the incredible opportunity that is the National Leadership Program. When I found out about it, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to make a difference addressing issues like I experienced at Hillel. [continue reading…]

Speakers Bureau and Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month

Hi! It’s been a while since I have had the opportunity to write an article, but I know you’ve been seeing my name and email address a lot as we talk about opportunities to celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) with events featuring RespectAbility’s Disability Training & Speakers Bureau (DTSB). Recently, we have been telling you about JDAIM and our past efforts. We have talked about the history and the procedure for booking a speaker, and even showcased our accessibility program options after the horrific treatment of Israeli Energy Minster, Karine Elharrar at the United Nations.

These are important things to share, but we have not yet shared with you our great success in our launch during JDAIM 2021. This was right at the beginning of my time with RespectAbility, and it was a real highlight, as it showcased both the strength of the Jewish inclusion movement, and the amazing breadth and capacity of our speakers. [continue reading…]

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