Tag Archives: Jewish

2015 Ruderman Prize In Inclusion Competition Announced

We are happy to announce the launching of the fourth annual Ruderman Prize in Inclusion global competition. The Prize aims to recognize organizations around the world who have demonstrated their commitment to the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community through innovative programs and services. The $250,000 prize will be split equally by five organizations.

“Innovative organizations in the global Jewish community are leading the way in promoting the full inclusion of people with disabilities in our society,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “We believe that by recognizing the most creative and impactful of these organizations through the Ruderman Prize in Inclusion that our Jewish community will be inspired by their example and seek to become a more inclusive community for all.  We look forward to receiving applications from Jewish organizations around the world.”

Ruderman Prize in inclusion logo

Over the last three years, twenty organizations worldwide have been recipients of the Prize, including organizations in Russia, the U.K., United States, Mexico, Israel, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Argentina. Past winners include schools, a synagogue, dance company, JCC, university, bakery, employment service and organizations that promote full inclusion for all Jews, whether they have a disability or not.

Fully inclusive programs ensure that everyone can participate together, without stigma or imposed limitations. The Ruderman Prize in Inclusion shines a spotlight on programs and organizations around the world whose work best exemplifies the full inclusion of people with disabilities, celebrating them as inspiration and models which could be replicated elsewhere. The Ruderman Prize in Inclusion is a signature program of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community.

Guidelines and a link to the application are available online. Submissions are due by Monday April 20, 2015 and the winners will be announced in June.


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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

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Lessons From My Son

5 of ClubsBy: Shelley Richman Cohen

My son Nathaniel was a person who never could take “no” for an answer. It wasn’t that he never listened or misbehaved to get his way. He just was a believer that anything in life is possible and therefore could never accept the word no. “Say ‘maybe’ Mommy, not ‘No.’ Just maybe you could change your mind.” He always held out hope for change even if he heard the word ”no.”

I learned much from Nathaniel and his too short life, and I have found that with each passing day I have become more like him, I too have trouble accepting the word “no” and look for the “yeses” and “maybes” in life.

Throughout Nathaniel’s lifetime I heard more “no’s” than I care to remember. “No” to a Jewish Day school education (from every religious denomination.) “No” to a mainstream summer Jewish camp experience. “No” to creating accessible programming in my synagogue. I always believed in Nathaniel’s right to be a part of all of these Jewish institutions despite his muscular dystrophy, so my husband and I kept trying to find our way in and, despite many rejections, Nathaniel ultimately got to be part of the greater Jewish community through its schools, camps and synagogues. 

Not only was Nathaniel a part of these institutions, he added greatly to the spirit of these places. At both his eighth grade and high school graduations he received standing ovations from both faculty and classmates alike. At camp, he not only became a camper but ultimately was put on Sport staff even as he became a quadriplegic – his mouth worked and he could use a whistle to referee the games. 

Nathaniel CohenThe truth is wherever Nathaniel went he was cherished by all who knew him. So the question remains – why was the first response to Nathaniel’s being included in our Jewish institutions always “No.”  I place the reason somewhere between fear and ignorance. At the time Rabbis, Principals, and Camp Directors just didn’t know how to see the possibilities. They were overwhelmed with the thoughts of dealing with someone who fell outside the norm with which they were used to dealing.

That was sixteen years ago and things have improved. Now almost every Orthodox summer overnight camp has an inclusion program for children with disabilities and camps run by other denominations do as well. But schools and synagogues still seem to be struggling with the concept of inclusion. It is for this reason that I have created The Jewish Inclusion Project, with the help of a grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation. The prefix “in” in the word “inclusion,” sounds so easy to do – come to me and I will let you in. But the reality is that inclusion is a very proactive process.

One has to proactively include people with disabilities. A person with visual impairment won’t think of praying in your synagogue if they don’t know that a Braille or large print prayer book is readily available from which they can pray. A family that has a member with Tourette syndrome won’t feel comfortable going to a prayer service unless they know the Rabbi and community value people with differences, even if those differences are occasionally disruptive. The Jewish Inclusion Project teaches rabbinical students and Jewish leadership how to create proactively inclusive Jewish environments in synagogues, schools, camps and Jewish organizations. Through Jewish learning, role playing, lectures and panels, TJIP teaches our future and present leaders how to proactively create communities that are inclusive of people with disabilities so that every Jew has a place at the table.

In time, I hope to prove Nathaniel correct, and see to it that there are no “no’s,” only “maybes” that can turn into an enthusiastic “YES!”

Shelley Richman Cohen is the Founder and Director of The Jewish Inclusion Project, which educates rabbinical students, Rabbis and communal leaders on the obligation, need and methodology for leading the creation of more inclusive synagogues, schools, summer camps and community organizations that fully embrace the communal, social and religious needs of people with disabilities and their families. The Jewish Inclusion Project is funded in part by a grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation.

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Filed under Disabilities rights, perceptions of disability

Let ADA Anniversary Prompt Jewish Communities to Act in Good Faith

By Guest Blogger Mark Pinsky, Religion writer and author

Although religious leaders were at the forefront of the movement for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which observes its 22nd anniversary today, their lobbyists effectively wrote themselves out of it jurisdiction. That meant that for faith communities the movement toward inclusion has largely been voluntary – spurred by the efforts of activists and advocates, especially parents of young people with disabilities.

Among the most inspiring and affirming stories in my new book,  Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability and Inclusion are those from the Jewish community, which demonstrate how much can be done:

  • Ezra Freedman-Harvey, of Orange County, California. Born with familial dysautonomia (FD), a rare, debilitating, neurological condition affecting only Jews, and once considered fatal, Ezra personifies the word persistence. With the support of his parents, and various branches of Judaism, he has had a full bar mitzvah, attended summer camp, become an Eagle Scout and attended college.
  • Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Boston University, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Harvard Divinity School, Landsberg was a rising star in the Reform movement when, in 1999, her SUV skidded on a patch of black ice in Washington, resulting in traumatic brain injury. Landsberg battled back to become one of the nation’s outstanding advocates for people with disabilities, of all faiths.
  • Shelly Christensen, of the Minneapolis Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities. She found Izzy Rosen, then in his 90s and in a state facility. Through the Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Christensen enabled him to locate and visit his parents’ graves in a local Jewish cemetery; to observe Jewish holidays, including a Seder with others in the Jewish disability community; and to be buried in a Jewish service.
  • Rabbi David Aaron Kay, now of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Orlando, Florida. As a young man – and aspiring rock musician – he became interested in making Jewish worship accessible to those with hearing impairment and deafness. After attending the Jewish Theological he has made himself an expert in opening Jewish congregations to this constituency.

These stories – a kind of compendium of multi-faith best practices – demonstrate what can be done where there is a commitment. The hope is that readers will see what has been done elsewhere, often at very little cost, and say: “Our congregation could do that.”

Note: Today is also a very special day for me. I’m honored to be among those individuals and organizations selected for recognition by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) “Justice for All” awards in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

— Mark I. Pinsky

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Filed under Disabilities rights, Disabilities Trends, In the Media, Initiatives, Uncategorized