During my seven summers at Ramah Wisconsin’s Tikvah program, I learned that my bunkmates from other cities struggled to be included with their Jewish peers in their own communities. Many of my disabled peers often had their only Jewish education and Jewish peer interactions during the summer at Ramah, while I felt very fortunate to have had a strong group of Jewish peers and a regular Jewish education at my own synagogue, B’nai Amoona in St. Louis, MO.
All throughout my youth I felt included in a community of peers there. I was included in their religious school classes, Camp Ramot Amoona and USY. Since my graduation from high school four years ago, B’nai Amoona has gone further and taken steps to become even more inclusive of every individual, regardless of their needs, as recognized in the Ruderman Prize award statement.
B’nai Amoona, by receiving the Ruderman prize, is now recognized as a “model” of an inclusive Jewish community. I am hopeful that this model will be adopted widely, both in the Jewish community here in the diaspora and in Israel, and indeed in all faith communities.
But B’nai Amoona cannot remain inclusive without continuous and constant effort. The many individuals who comprise the congregation’s community must continue acting in ways to make a difference. Parents, clergy, educators, USY and Kadima directors and people with disabilities themselves must teach everyone, including younger children, the importance of inclusion.
By doing so, we will identify areas that need improvement and act on them in a manner that includes the voices of all throughout future generations. Other communities and organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, should follow B’nai Amoona’s example and become inclusive, no matter how challenging it is.
Wherever I end up, B’nai Amoona will never leave me.
Kenneth “Kenny” Kalman is a recent graduate of American University and is a summer fellow with Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi as she starts a new non-Profit, RespectAbility. In the fall, Kenny plans to attend the University of Delaware as an MPA candidate. Through his fellowship and studies, Kenny hopes to gain knowledge on and open the door into the field of disability advocacy, especially that which occurs in the Jewish world. Kenny has multiple disabilities, including Asperger’s and a genetic connective tissue disorder called Stickler Syndrome, and has also taken part in many Jewish opportunities, such as Camp Ramah in Wisconsin’s Tikvah and Atzmayim programs. He seeks to ensure each individual, regardless of ability, has access and is fully included in such opportunities.