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Jewish Inclusion

Reasonable Accommodations are a Torah Value – By Rabbi Lauren Tuchman

This week’s Shabbat Smile was written by Rabbi Lauren Tuchman, the first ordained female rabbi who is blind.

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman wearing a purple shirt inside a synagogue with the background blurred.

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman

As a rabbi and someone who is blind, I have a unique view of Moses (Moshe) and how G-d treated him. In The Book of Exodus, when we are introduced to Moshe, many interpret that he had a speech disability. In Exodus 4:10-16, G-d informs Moshe that he will lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt—from slavery to freedom. Moshe balks. He asks, “Who am I to lead this people? I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Perhaps Moshe felt self-conscious, unable to fully grasp his own potential and greatness. Perhaps he was not feeling up to the task for any number of reasons.

G-d’s powerful response addressed Moshe’s most obvious fear. Exodus 4:11-12, we hear G-d’s bellowing statement on disability: “Who gives man speech? Who makes him speechless or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.”

I am often asked about the theology in this passage. Truthfully, for many years, I understood this passage quite negatively. Does G-d countenance ableism and institutionalized oppression that many people with disabilities encounter daily? How can I connect to a G-d who made me as I am, in a world that presents so many barriers for people with disabilities? Is that not a punishing theology? [continue reading…]

Shabbat Smile – Terumah by Neil Jacobson

This week’s Shabbat Smile was written by our board member Neil Jacobson to be delivered as a drash at his congregation.

Neil Jacobson sitting at his computer and smiling he has a beard and is wearing glasses color photo

Neil Jacobson

This week’s Torah portion is Terumah. It describes how God tells the people how God wants the Temple to be built. God gives very detailed instructions. Some tasks are to be done by everyone, and some are to be done by some people. Everyone had to participate.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Temple Sinai’s Access Committee chose ‘Caregiving and Care-receiving’ as the theme—a challenge many congregants will need to address at some stage in their lives.

Transitioning to becoming more disabled at the age of 59 was surprisingly difficult. As most of you know, I have always had significant disabilities due to Cerebral Palsy. I use a powered wheelchair. My speech is hard to understand. I never sit upright in my chair. I always needed assistance in preparing food and cutting it up. My wife, Denise, has similar disabilities to mine. In the 35 years that we’ve been married, we’ve always needed attendants about 10 hours a week for cooking and cleaning. When David, our son, was a baby we hired help to help feed and bathe him. [continue reading…]

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

Mental health conditions listed as most common disability in Jewish community

Los Angeles, California, Jan. 9 – More than 4000 respondents participated in a RespectAbility survey focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith communities in America. This includes 183 Jews with disabilities in California and additional 79 with no disability connection in the state. Fully 104 of the respondents reported that they are served by the Jewish Federation of Greater LA. Nationally the poll includes more than 900 Jews who self-disclose that they are a person with a disability.

Text: Do you know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at your own faith based institutions? Pie chart with results.

Only 17% of Jewish respondents with disabilities in California know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at their synagogue.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities in California and across the nation point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as clergy or staff at Jewish institutions. They also 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 a leadership position. Only 6 percent of the California Jews with no disability connection who were polled know of a person with a disability in leadership. Nationally it is slightly higher at nearly 10 percent. Only 13 percent of California Jews in the disability community answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions.” This is also five points lower than the national results of 18 percent.

Said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility’s president who herself is dyslexic, “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. Many also want to be recruited, trained and empowered to make the Jewish community stronger, just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

Poll: Most D.C.-area Jews Don’t Know Any Rabbis or Staff with Disabilities

Concerns High on Access to Healthcare, Education, Jobs, Fighting Stigmas and Jewish Inclusion

Washington, D.C., January 7, 2019 – More than 4000 respondents participated in a RespectAbility survey focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities in faith communities in America. This includes 133 Jews in the disability community in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, and an additional 42 with no disability connection in this region. More than 900 Jews who self-disclose they are a person with a disability participated in the study overall.

Text: Do you know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at your own faith based institutions? Pie chart with results.

59% of Jewish D.C.-area respondents with disabilities do not know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at their synagogue.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) region and across the nation point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as Rabbis, cantors or staff at Jewish institutions. While overall things are improving significantly in terms of access and inclusion for Jews with disabilities in the DMV, they also do not yet fully feel welcomed to serve as leaders in lay positions in the Jewish community. Only 15 percent of Jews with disabilities know of a person with a disability in a leadership position. Nationally fewer than 10 percent of Jews with no disability connection know of a person with a disability in leadership. Only 17 percent of area Jews in the disability community answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions,” which is in line with the national results at 18 percent.

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

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

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

Washington, D.C., Dec. 21 – More than 4000 respondents participated in a RespectAbility survey 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. This includes 172 Jews in the disability community in New York, and an additional 75 with no disability connection.

Text: Do you know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at your own faith based institutions? Pie chart with results.

Only 15% of Jewish New York respondents with disabilities know of any clergy or staff with disabilities at their synagogue.

The Jewish respondents with disabilities in New York and across the nation point to a lack of people with disabilities in leadership roles as clergy or staff at Jewish institutions. They also do not fully feel welcomed to serve as leaders in lay positions in the Jewish community. Only 15 percent of Jews with disabilities know of a person with a disability in a leadership position. Only seven percent of the New York Jews with no disability connection who were polled know of a person with a disability in leadership. Nationally it is slightly higher at nearly 10 percent. Only 12 percent of New York Jews in the disability community answer “yes” that they “feel that people with disabilities are encouraged to serve on the boards and committees of your faith-based institutions.” This is also six points lower than the national results of 18 percent.

Said Shelley Cohen, co-founder of RespectAbility and leader of the Jewish Inclusion Project, “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. Many also want to be recruited, trained and empowered to make the Jewish community stronger, just like anyone else.” [continue reading…]

Shabbat Smile – Update on RespectAbility’s National Leadership Program

When Donn Weinberg, Shelley Cohen and I started RespectAbility, it was an outgrowth of the Jewish Funders Network disability funders group. Amazing people, including Judith Creed, Joan Alexander and others were involved. One thing we all realized is that young leadership is a key to the future, and that talented young people with disabilities need to be a part of advanced leadership training and networking opportunities.

Thanks to an ongoing commitment from Stanford and Joan Alexander, we were able to create our National Leadership Program. Already more than 130 young leaders have graduated from the program. They have gone on to work for the U.S. Congress, White House, numerous government agencies, nonprofits and Jewish organizations. We have three cohorts of approximately a dozen young leaders at a time (up to 36 participants a year in total). These include people who are deaf, blind, have Autism, spina bifida and a wide array of other disabilities. Many of these youth also live with mental health conditions, some as a result of bullying and rejection. It is an inclusion program so we also serve young allies who do not have disabilities. All of the participants are talented. We just did a report on the program, and I invite you to read it HERE. [continue reading…]

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…]

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