JDAMblogs - Blogging Jewish Disability Awareness Month

JDAMblogs: weekly prompts for Jewish Disability Awareness Month

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) I am going to embark on a bit of a project. Inspired by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the creator of BlogElul, I will do my best to share a daily blog post throughout the month of February to help bring awareness to the significant value of including Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. And I would love for you to join me. 

Here’s how to join JDAMblogs:  Tag each blog post you write with JDAMblogs. Use the hashtag #JDAMblogs on Twitter and Facebook. Visit my blog again on February 1 where I will include an opportunity for you to link up your blog and share your posts with others. Tweet me and tag me on Facebook so that I can promote as many of these posts as possible. 

But really, there are no rules. You can blog daily, but it’s not required. You can write, draw and share photos or even a make a video. You don’t have to be an inclusion expert or a Jewish Educator or even a Jewish professional to contribute. In fact, I hope that parents, loved ones and self-advocates will participate. You don’t even have to be Jewish! EVERY voice matters. Isn’t that the point, after all? All you really need is a desire to contribute in some way. Blog once, or blog every day. Tweet. Share a Facebook status. Share your voice.

Let's make the Jewish Disability Awareness Month tagline a reality: From Awareness to Inclusion!

A Word of Caution Before Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Inclusion is a philosophy; Removing the Stumbling Block

There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World. Can you feel it? Two weeks from now will mark the beginning of the seventh annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month; affectionately known by those who love acronyms as JDAM. It can be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. Personally, I always hope that it will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

JDAM logo; Removing the Stumbling Block
But before the hoopla and the congratulatory pats on the back for great programs and events, I want to make a request. JDAM always makes me a little nervous. In a world that still focuses heavily on programs over relationships, I worry that JDAM itself becomes the answer for some communities. I want you to remember that in and of itself, JDAM is NOT inclusion. No one program is inclusion.
Inclusion is a mindset. Inclusion is a way of thinking. It is how we behave and treat one another. It is a philosophy that embraces the idea that everyone has something of value to contribute and that everyone has a right to belong. When we commit ourselves to making our programs accessible – not just in the physical sense, but by also ensuring that each person’s participation is truly meaningful – then we can call ourselves inclusive. Then we can pat ourselves on the back and celebrate our success. But we are not there yet.

I hope that JDAM can be a step in that direction. Check back with me throughout the month of February. I plan to post as often as I can (I'm afraid to promise daily!). And I will again create a place where we can link all of our posts and articles through my second annual JDAMblogs project.

MLK, Judaism and Disability Inclusion

Our celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has me thinking about two things.

First, this quote:
MLK Staircase Quote: Removing the Stumbling Block

“Faith is taking the first step even if you don’t see the entire staircase.”

Sometimes the way to make inclusion a reality is to take a leap of faith. Yes, we want to make sure we have the right supports, the right “buy in”, the right amount of money, the right facilities, the right…everything. And the truth is, we will never have EVERYTHING right. That’s life. That’s what makes life interesting and wonderful and challenging. If we waited for the stars to align before we took any risks, we’d never move. And so it is with inclusion. Think about everything – but take the leap of faith.

Second, this image:

King, Eisendrath, Torah - Removing the Stumbling Block

Every time I see it I get the chills. Really. It just reminds me of how deeply proud I am of my rich Jewish heritage. Our Torah teaches a simple truth, “You shall not wrong nor oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20). This image is proof. 

A Favorite Story of Inclusion

I celebration of my second “Blogiversary”, I share one of my favorite stories:

Inclusion is about more than learning a foreign language; Removing the Stumbling Block

When I first began my tenure at Temple Beth-El over fourteen years ago, there was a student named David in our fifth grade who had a significant learning disability and attention issues. We were invited by David’s parents to the public school district’s annual IEP meeting, where members of the Child Study Team suggested that David not attempt learn a foreign language. He would struggle too significantly, they asserted, and his focus should be on reading and writing English.

Yet this was a notion that just wasn’t acceptable to his parents, who were actively raising their children in a Jewish home, and who wanted David to both learn and love Hebrew, and for him to become a bar mitzvah.

With this goal as our guide, we individualized David’s instruction to meet his specific academic needs and he learned to read Hebrew. His bar mitzvah was a highly meaningful experience as he read from the Torah and led our congregation in prayer. 

But for me, this is where David’s story begins.  

Individualize to meet student needs; Removing the Stumbling Block

I always knew that David could learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah; we just needed to meet his learning needs appropriately. For me, what is significant is that David continued his formal Jewish learning beyond his bar mitzvah. When so many drop out, for a vast array of reasons, having students stay by choice is a significant testament to a program that meets their needs. It was truly powerful to sit in the sanctuary as David joined with his peers to reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. David also went on to become an active member of our youth group, serving on its board and becoming an active member in NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth), too. This is the success story! 

Without our flexible approach to individualized learning and our commitment to each and every child’s success, David could well have been that stereotypically frustrated boy who fought coming to Hebrew school. He might have barely finished seventh grade and he certainly would have struggled through the bar mitzvah process. Instead, David’s handsome face shined brightly from our bimah on the evening of his Confirmation. 

If we had listened to David’s Child Study Team, he would have missed out on the richness of his heritage; the joy of learning and living Jewishly. Inclusion is about so much more than whether or not we teach a child a foreign language. We are shaping young Jewish identities and empowering them to live Jewish lives. 

Who’s to say what that should look like?

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