Ten Steps To Make Your Congregation More Inclusive, Part II

Lisa FriedmanBy: Lisa Friedman

In Part 1 of “10 Steps to Make Your Congregation More Inclusive” I began to outline some of the steps that a congregation can take when they desire to become more inclusive but are not sure where to begin.  Here are the next steps in moving a congregation toward inclusion of people with disabilities.

4. Set Goals
Bring together the key stakeholders identified in Step 1.  Review the vision for inclusion created in Step 3.  Here is the opportunity to dream. Do not engage in discussions of what may or may not be possible at this stage, as you will limit yourself.  Brainstorm all that you would hope to accomplish.  How about a fully accessible sanctuary? Maybe an amplification system for the hearing impaired or Braille siddurim for the visually impaired? Could you consider live streaming services for those unable to travel?  Now think about your school.  Is it fully accessible with inclusive programs and opportunities for students to learn at their own pace? Are all children able to experience the joy of becoming bar/bat mitzvah? Think about the community at large. Do members of your community attend programs or join committees? If not, consider a survey to uncover and understand the barriers that currently exist in your community.

5. Prioritize Goals
This is the point where you must discuss what is realistic and possible in the short-term and what must be tabled for a later point in time.  This is most frequently the place where congregations get stuck.  Ideally, you will choose 3-5 goals to act upon, but if you must choose only one to enable movement forward, do that.  It is critical that you leave this stage with at least one actionable goal.

6. Get Help
If one of your stakeholders is not a professional in the disability world, this is the time to explore bringing in a consultant. Here is the place to find additional individuals with disabilities to share their perspective.  The goals you have set will determine if you should seek an architect, an educator, a lawyer, etc.

Dream big, work hard and don’t allow yourselves to get frustrated by differences in opinion. Keeping your eye on the vision will help you to set realistic and practical goals to keep your work moving forward.

Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey where she  oversees an extensive Special Needs program within the Religious School designed to help students successfully learn Hebrew, learn about their Jewish heritage and feel connected to their Jewish community. She also consults with congregations to develop inclusive practices for staff, clergy, and families through dialogue, interactive workshops and awareness training.  Lisa is a blogger on the issue of disabilities and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.

Read our last post: Our Inclusion Journey Is Just Beginning
Come visit us on Facebook to learn more about inclusion of people with disabilities

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6 Comments

Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, perceptions of disability

6 responses to “Ten Steps To Make Your Congregation More Inclusive, Part II

  1. I’d like to suggest that you need to start with the Rabbis many of whom feel uncomfortable. They need to be brought along.

    • Lisa Friedman

      Of course. And the other clergy and professionals. In Part I I named step 1 as “Identifying Key Stakeholders”. I would absolutely include rabbis, cantors, educators, youth professionals, synagogue administrators, etc. in this category. Thank you!

      • In my experience, the organizational culture is best influenced from the professional leadership; unfortunately, many Rabbis do not lead here which gives everyone in the organization a pass not to deal with the “elephant in the room.”

  2. Sabrina and Lisa
    I couldn’t agree with you more. I too was Nogaah b’davar (personally touched) by having a a son with a neuro muscular disorder and who was turned away by many Rabbis and so called Jewish leaders of Jewish day schools, camps and synagogue infrastructures. I fought tooth and nail to have him be included in our Jewish community and luckily succeeded despite much rejection. I do not want another person with a disability or their family to have to go through what my husband and I did and therefore have started a non-profit called The Jewish Inclusion Project (TJIP) funded in part by the Ruderman Family Foundation. TJIP does Inclusion training for Rabbis and Jewish Leadership. There are two courses both of which have run at the modern Orthodox Yeshiva, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah(YCT) on the Rabbinic Role of Inclusion of People with Physical Disabilities and on the Rabbinic Role of People with Developmental and Learning Disabilities.
    The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) has agreed to run the program in January 2015, I have guest lectured at HUC and am in discussions at Yeshiva University and the Academy for Jewish Religion. My goal is to educate our clergy and Jewish leaders to the fact that Inclusion is a proactive process and it is time for them to be proactive!

    • Lisa Friedman

      Marvelous, just marvelous. Shelley, although we have not met, I am quite familiar with your work. I have also been involved with some of the efforts at HUC in NY, and think you are spot on when you say the work of inclusion must be proactive. I would love to collaborate in the future if you were interested.

    • Often people in the Jewish Community don’t want to make waves because it is seen as unseemly; however, that’s absolutely what needs to be done and I’m glad, Shelley, that you do not shy away from this. We need more people in our community to be vocal even if it is uncomfortable…

      I once was on the verge of suing a Jewish summer camp where my husband and I met when we were children. They decided to accept my child (who is very sweet), and I sent a full time helper for her. When they saw that nothing bad happened, they were very proud of themselves. Unfortunately, they ignored her most of the time (great Jewish values there)! Eventually they started being a little more open-minded, but much work needs to be done in that community.

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