Tag Archives: JDAM

JDAM 2015 Roundup

2015 Jewish Disability Awareness Month just finished- and what a month! Programs across North America, new initiatives announced, many many posts and articles and plenty of tweets on Twitter!

Below is a list of fifteen posts and articles we selected that discuss inclusion from numerous angles. They are not listed in any specific order. Please read them and spread them around.

Thank you to everyone who participated in #JDAM15 and who continues to work towards a fully inclusive Jewish community!

What I Learned Planning a Bat Mitzvah for my Daughter with Disabilities
A mother learns to let go of what we can’t control and embrace the true meaning of the experience. (Kveller)

In Baltimore and Atlanta, a Model for Jewish Community Disability Inclusion
The goal is to show the entire Jewish community that full inclusion is possible. (JNS)

Jewish Disability Awareness
Being Jewish and having a disability means it’s harder to be accepted into the community. A first-person account. (Jerusalem Post)

Five Ways to be an Ally to People with Disabilities
Listen, educate yourself, advocate and more. (URJ)

Inclusion is Great. Now what?
There’s always  more that can be done- steps to making our community more inclusive. (New Normal)

Accessibility Building Blocks to Remove Stumbling Blocks
Tech must be accessible to all! Dana Marlowe, an accessibility expert, looks at the need to ensure that everyone has access to tech and Judaism’s perspective on the issue. (eJewish Philanthropy)

Disabled Does not mean Not Abled
A younger brother looks at his older brother’s journey in the Jewish community and which organizations helped him along the way. (New Voices)

In it Together
Talk to your kids and discuss inclusion with them. (JKid Philly)

What if you Can’t Swim?
A look at mikveh (ritual immersion) and people who have a disability. (Mayyim Hayyim)

My Son has Fragile X Syndrome- and a Surprising Connection to Prayer
Beautiful post by Rabbi Ilana Garber about her son and why we should be grateful for all our blessings, every day. (Kveller)

2015 JDAM logo

Let’s Get Started!
Getting started on the track towards inclusion in your community. (Matan Inc.)

Remove the Stumbling Block of Economic Inequality
There are economic hardships that are unique to people with disabilities across America. (The RAC)

Israeli Cops to Walk with Children with Disabilities in Marathon
Wonderful story about Israeli police officers learning to work hand-in-hand with kids with disabilities- and learning a valuable lesson along the way. (JNS)

Opening the Gates of Torah
A first-person account of living with autism. (USCJ)

The Collateral Good Cannot be Overstated
Fantastic post about how Temple Beth Torah became fully inclusive. (URJ)

And on our blog:

Inclusion of Biblical Proportions
The case of Moses is an example par excellence of what can happen when a person is appropriately facilitated and included.

The Favorite Student
Benji became Sam’s favorite bar mitzva student by demonstrating that everyone has ability. They just need someone to help them bring it forth.

I Am Dyslexic
A bar mitzvah boy embraces his dyslexia and sets to help others reach their full potential.


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JDAM Roundup

Jewish Disability and Awareness Month just finished- and what a month! Programs across North America, new initiatives announced, many many posts and articles and on Twitter…over 1,000 mentions of the #JDAM14 hashtag!

Below is a list of fifteen blog posts we selected that discuss inclusion from numerous angles. They are not listed in any specific order. Please read them and spread them around. One op-ed we would encourage you to read was Jay Ruderman’s message on the URJ blog: Disability issues are issues of social justice.

Thank you to everyone who participated in JDAM and who continues to work towards a fully inclusive Jewish community!

– Ephraim

My Name is Emily and I Love to be Me
Wonderful post by 12 year old Emily Afshany on the Jewish Federation of Greater LA’s blog.  Emily discusses her learning disability and how Friendship Circle and summer camp has helped create friendships for a  lifetime.

Recognizing Invisible Disabilities
On Lisa Friedman’s blog: “Not every disability is visible. If you truly believe that your congregation doesn’t have a single member with a disability, I would venture to guess that an unwillingness to consider inclusive practices keeps those members with disabilities away. Our attitudes continue to be the greatest barrier to inclusive communities.”

The “Old Fashioned” Bar Mitzvah
Great post on the Matan blog: A daughter looks at her father’s bar mitzvah 67 years ago and wonders if today her father would receive the same opportunity.

Revealing What Others Want to Hide Away
Rabbi Paul Kipnes looks at the Torah’s portrayal of who can and who cannot perform the priestly duties in the Temple- and how to reconcile the fact that those with disabilities were disqualified.

The Holy Privilege of Resting on Shabbat
From the URJ blog: “Rest is a holy privilege, but one cannot rest if one does not have meaningful work to precede it. When people with and without disabilities are given the opportunity to work all week creating, producing, and providing, then we all can truly rest.”

After Raising a Son with Severe Autism, I have Redefined “Normal”
Elaine Hall, writing on Kveller, discusses how she has redefined the word “normal” now that she raised a child with severe autism.

A Different Look at Noah’s Ark
A different look at the classic tale of Noah and the ark to open the conversation about who is inside and who remains outside our Jewish institutions. Jews with disabilities still sit with their backs to our doors, unable to enter and engage. It is our responsibility to make sure that OUR houses of prayer ARE houses of prayer for ALL people.

JDAM logoInclusion Comes from the Top- and the Bottom and Middle
Howard Blas, writing in eJewish Philanthropy, discusses a recent Tikvah Ramah trip to Israel for young adults with disabilities- and how meaningful the trip was for everyone involved.

Making Inclusion a Reality
In this op-ed in the Washington Jewish Week, William Daroff looks at what still needs to be done in order for our society to become fully inclusive.

My Child with Autism is Going to Jewish Day School (and it’s working!)
On Kveller, a parent looks back over the last year and is thrilled to note that her child with autism is able to attend a Jewish day school.

Peeling Off the Labels
On the JCC Chicago blog: At summer camp, peel off the labels and recognize and appreciate each individual  person.

Growing Up with Parents with Disabilities
Wonderful post on the URJ blog about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s with parents who had a disability.

JDAM: Cakes and Miracles
On the Jewish Learning Venture’s blog we are reminded that each of us is different, each of us has abilities.

Is Accessibility of Public Spaces so Impossible?
Beth Steinberg of Camp Shutaf discusses Jerusalem’s lack of accessibility and wonders why public accessibility is so difficult to implement.

Rethinking Disability Simulations
Herein lies the problem with disability simulation. It may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than true acceptance.


Filed under perceptions of disability

All Year Round

jo ann cropBy: Jo Ann Simons

The Jewish community is celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness Month this month. It is a time to bring more attention and awareness to the issue of disability. I do not know when it started. I do know that it did not exist in 1979, when my son was born with Down syndrome and 4 heart defects.

I know this because the issue of disability and especially intellectual disability was something that made most of the Jewish community uncomfortable. Religious women were being told, by their rabbi’s, to give up children with Down syndrome for adoption and then require that they be adopted by Jewish families.

As a Board member of the National Down Syndrome Congress at that time, it made me and other Jewish board members feel much shame, as we knew that this requirement meant that it was unlikely that these children would be adopted. Few Jewish families were lining up to adopt children with disabilities.

I learned that Golda Meir was so ashamed of her granddaughter with Down syndrome that she refused to acknowledge her existence and she wrote Meira out of her autobiography.

It was against this backdrop that I was determined to do my part to make my son a full and equal member of our Jewish community. I can actually say that he has been welcomed and celebrated each step of the way: at 12 weeks old, he began day care at the North Shore Jewish Community Center and his therapist came there to provide him services and the other children learned sign language alongside of him. He continued at the “J” in all aspects of camping where he was the only camper with a significant disability. He began religious studies at age 5 at Temple Emanuel and became a Bar Mitzvah, Confirmed and Post-Confirmed.

JDAM logoThis is not about Jon but about the fact that our community needs an awareness month at all. It’s actually sad that we join the list below (and I am not sure that it is even a complete list) in vying for attention to disability issues.

Disability Awareness Calendar 2014

Jewish Disability Awareness Month
AMD/Low Vision Awareness Month

Intellectual and Developmental Disability Awareness Month
World Down Syndrome Day March 21, 2014

National Autism Awareness Month

Mental Health Month
National Children’s Mental Health Week May 2-8, 2014
Mental Health Awareness Week May 12-18, 2014
National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week May 4-9, 2014
National Schizophrenia Awareness Week May 19-25, 2014

National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day June 27, 2014

National Deaf Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month
ADHD Awareness Month
National Down Syndrome Month
Rett Syndrome Awareness Month
Disability History and Awareness Month
Learning Disability Awareness Month
Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) – First week in October. October 3-9, 2014
World Mental Health Day – October 10, 2014
OCD Awareness Week October 9-15, 2014

Epilepsy Awareness Month
Mental Health Wellness Week  November 9 – 15, 2014

International Day of Persons with Disability (United Nations) – December 3, 2014

Some might suggest that disability awareness should be celebrated all year long but I suggest that I hope that time comes, very soon, when awareness months are not necessary because people with disabilities are fully included in Jewish life.

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers

Read our last post: Start-up Nation or Nation in Need of Repair
Come visit us on Facebook to learn more about inclusion of people with disabilities

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Mitzvah Mensches: Inclusive Social Action for Teens


Periodically we offer you glimpses into excellent and innovative inclusion programs from all corners of the Jewish community. Today I’m happy to bring you a post about a wonderful program run by Gateways, a Boston organization with which my family has been deeply involved since its inception.

It can be hard to get teen inclusion programs right, but we believe Mitzvah Mensches has done just that. I hope this inspires you to think about starting your own inclusive philanthropy and social action program—or tell us about the one you already have.

–Jay Ruderman

Mitzvah Mensches: Inclusive Social Action for Teens

By Nancy Mager, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education

Jewish Disability Awareness Month highlights the issue of inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. Here in Boston, Gateways has a teen youth initiative – Mitzvah Mensches – that strives to include teens with disabilities in meaningful Jewish extracurricular activities.

Mitzvah Mensches is an inclusive teen youth group fostering young philanthropists. We create a social life through social action.  Teens join Mitzvah Mensches for a variety of reasons– but one thing is for sure: they all think it’s fun, they all feel like they belong, and they all have a voice that is heard and counted.

The overt curriculum at Mitzvah Mensches is about philanthropy and social action. Teens tell us what they are interested in and we find charities that are aligned with their interests. As a group, we learn about the charities in fun and creative ways. Sometimes, it looks like formal learning (reading and writing, or watching a video about an organization), but often we incorporate games and team challenges into the evening. The games have a secondary (covert) purpose: through them, we work on social skills and building relationships among the participants.

As an inclusive program, some of the Mensches have disabilities and others do not. A diagnosis or disability is not so important. What is important is that the teens make connections with one another. In the beginning of the year, the teens may feel they do not share interests or have much in common, but as the year progresses and the program creates unique shared experiences, the teens bond and have things to talk about.  Eventually those connections grow stronger and friendships are forged.

Now in its eighth year, the group meets twice a month during the school year and includes students with and without disabilities.

So, while wonderful activities, posts and celebrations of awareness carry on during Jewish Disability Awareness Month, the teens of Mitzvah Mensches will be celebrating a slightly different agenda: acceptance, individuality, and inclusion of all.

Nancy Mager is the Director of Jewish Education Programs at Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. She can be reached at nancym@jgateways.org.

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What Do You Value in Jewish Life?


Today I’m pleased to bring you a post by one of the founders of Jewish Disability Awareness Month, Shelly Christensen.  Shelly has been in the forefront of the Jewish inclusion movement for many years.  Here she offers ideas for examining our own feelings and assumptions about Judaism and disability—an important exercise for each of us, this month and all year.

–Jay Ruderman

What Do You Value in Jewish Life?

By Shelly Christensen, Founder of Inclusion Innovations, and co-founder of Jewish Disability Awareness Month with the Jewish Special Education International Consortium

We recognize Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) for only the fifth consecutive year. In that short span, Jewish communities across North America have adopted JDAM as a call to action.

Yasher koach, we say to each other as we hold a Shabbat of Inclusion, invite participants from a group home to services, or invite a speaker to give the sermon on disability issues. Each activity tagged with the JDAM logo means that someone is paying attention and observing that there are many people with disabilities and mental health disorders still living on the margins of Jewish life.

We must sincerely and with integrity work towards the day when any Jewish person who has a disability can be a valued member of the Jewish community, not by platitudes, but by recognizing that individual’s gifts, strengths and desires to live a Jewish life.

Think for a moment of all that you have come to value by being a member of your Jewish community–whatever form that takes.

Do you have a picture of that in your mind? Imagine if none of that existed for you; that you could see others doing what you want to do through a clouded window. Imagine if all you love about belonging to your Jewish community was not destined to be yours. How would your life be different? You would be denied access to all you value and never have the opportunity to choose what your own participation would be.

So it is for many Jews with disabilities and their families. We have a responsibility to take action beyond Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

Inclusion does not happen just because we know it is the right (and Jewish) thing to do. It happens because people who believe that each human was created in the Divine Image know that when one person is left out from belonging, we are not finished with our work of inclusion.

There is much to do, and the clock is ticking. As an advocate for and practitioner of Jewish community inclusion across the lifespan in all facets of Jewish life, I have been privileged to be a partner of many Jews, of all ages, who sought inclusion, membership and to simply “belong” to the community. Inclusion is possible. We can do this when we set our course, determined to adapt our attitudes and beliefs so that all may belong.

Each of us is responsible for each other. What can and will you do?

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Moses, Inclusion, and Jewish Disability Awareness Month


As you may know, February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM).  It was founded in 2008 by the Jewish Special Education Consortium and this year we are hearing about schools, congregations, and communal organizations marking the occasion with celebration and reflection. You can check out the JDAM Facebook page here.

Below, our colleague Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi takes the opportunity to reflect in a JTA op-ed on the state of inclusion in Jewish organizations in the United States.

What are you doing for JDAM?

–Jay Ruderman


Play the money card to push rights for disabled

By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi,  February 7, 2013

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish identity and connection are the birthright of every Jew. So why do so many Jewish institutions discriminate against Jews with disabilities?

It keeps happening because we let it happen. We make excuses by saying there isn’t enough support or enough dollars, or because we value children going to Harvard over those who won’t.

With February being Jewish Disability Awareness Month, it’s time to ask how long we plan to provide the pearls of our heritage only to those capable of receiving them in the rote methods they are presented?

Judaism teaches us that when we were slaves in Egypt and really needed help, God’s instrument was a person with a disability: Moses was “slow of speech and tongue.” But with tremendous assistance from Aaron and the proper supports, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedom and the Promised Land.

For how long will the keys to our treasure trove of tradition only be given to those at our Jewish day schools, synagogue religious schools, youth groups and others who can use those keys without adaptation or support?

More is being done in some institutions to broaden the tent, and there are pockets of excellence. However, I know more than a hundred parents from across America, including top Jewish leaders, whose children have been rejected or “counseled out” from Jewish day schools because of their disabilities.

I watched in pain recently as a prestigious Jewish day school encouraged three children in a classroom of 16 students to leave Jewish day schools because the schools did not want to accommodate their special needs. The three went on to non-Jewish schools for children who are college bound but have special needs. Their parents’ tuition bills increased from $25,000 a year to $35,000 to $65,000 a year — funds they gladly would have paid to keep their children within the walls of a Jewish school.

Instead these families, who needed support from the Jewish community as they were dealing with their children’s special needs, left feeling anger as their community turned them away.

Too often, no matter how hard they try, many Jews with disabilities are simply not fully welcomed. This isn’t an isolated problem: Estimates based on Jewish studies put the number of Jewish children in America with some sort of disability at 200,000. According to the U.S. Census, 20 percent of Americans have a disability, and a recent national poll showed that 51 percent of likely American voters either have a disability or a loved one with a disability.

The Jewish community harms itself when it turns away people with disabilities.

Moreover, some buildings for Jewish day schools, synagogues and special events education have doors that are too narrow for wheelchairs. Why host programs in places that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act? High Holidays services are led without sign language interpreters in congregations with deaf members. We hand out songs sheets in font sizes too small for the visually impaired to read.

The mantra of the disability community, which wants and deserves a say in its destiny, has become “Nothing about us without us.” Yet even many Jewish organizations that serve Jews with disabilities don’t put people with disabilities on their committees, staffs or boards.

We would not tolerate it if a prestigious school rejected children because they were Jewish. Why does the Jewish community continue to tolerate it when Jewish institutions say no to people with disabilities?

It’s time to use the power of the purse to stop the discrimination.

The “golden rule” of non-profits is that those who give the gold makes the rules. So donors, large and small, must say “hineini” (here I am) to end the intolerance and injustice. Rather than talking the talk, we must walk the walk.

Jews with disabilities aren’t the only Jews who face discrimination from within; so does the LBGT community. Thankfully the Schusterman and Morningstar foundations, along with Stuart Kurlander, the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a gay rights activist, have created an index to show if Jewish groups are open to the LBGT community. They are having a positive impact. This is an example to follow.

Indeed, the Ruderman Family Foundation was the first to raise this issue when it came to inclusion of Jews with disabilities. Others should follow its example. At the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust, we are. While our family foundation doesn’t accept any unsolicited applicants, even those who we encourage to apply for support must answer serious questions.

They include:

* Does your organization have policies that support meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels, including on your board of directors?

* Does your organization have a disability advisory committee/inclusion committee?

* Will the program or project include people with disabilities?  If not, why not?  If so, how do you plan to identify, reach and welcome them?

* Describe the accessibility of your offices to people with physical disabilities.

* Do you employ and/or offer internships to individuals who have disabilities?  If so, what are their jobs?  Do they receive the same compensation and benefits as all other employees in like positions?  Please describe how you educate your board of directors or trustees and staff about serving and partnering with people with disabilities.

Our foundation is smaller than others, but we believe that no matter the size of our philanthropic investments, they must be moral in nature. For example, this year we cut funding to an organization with the sole purpose of serving people with disabilities, but tragically the very people they were supposedly serving didn’t feel they were being heard and respected as equals.

We hope that others, including federations, foundations and individuals, will join us as we fight for justice and opportunity, so that all Jews can experience our Jewish birthright.

(Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the co-founder and director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust and founder and president of Laszlo Strategies.)

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