Consensus building can be difficult.   Getting disparate groups to agree to a common goal does not come easily.   When the organized Jewish community is part of the equation, the process can be laborious, and may even become quite emotional as so much of Jewish identity is wrapped up in “community”.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 will be different.

For the first time, the North American Jewish community will be one with a full consensus driven effort at play. And that effort will be directed toward redoubling our energies to include community members with abilities and disabilities into our community structures, programs, and organizations.

On Tuesday, February 6th, professional, volunteer and family representatives of Jewish human service agencies, local federations, synagogues, advocacy groups and national organizations will come together as one – in both Washington, DC and in Ottawa, Ontario to advocate for enhanced policies which will support and strengthen individuals with disabilities and their families. This is an incredible initiative that is being coordinated continentally.

Scheduled deliberately in February, at the beginning of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), the Jewish Federation of North America and the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Day (JDAD) and the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA’s Ottawa Fly-In on Disabilities and Inclusion will bring together Jewish communal leaders, individuals with disabilities and their families for education, advocacy and one on one sessions with elected officials. In Canada, the fly-in is organized jointly by Jewish Federations of Canada–UIA and its advocacy agent The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, a newly established membership organization serving as the central address for the Jewish human service sector, is honored to serve as a co-sponsoring organization, among many, of both programs.

These advocacy days come at a time when, despite marked efforts by the Jewish community to strengthen services for individuals with disabilities, there is deep recognition that our governments must invest in core services such as housing, education and employment, and that the respective social policy agenda for each country must create the context for change.

In particular, these days come at a time when access, resources and comprehensive services for individuals with disabilities are at risk, in both the US and Canada.

In the US, the JDAD event will highlight the need to protect Medicaid.   With the recognition that Congress came within 1 vote of making drastic and permanent cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid in 2017, there is 100% consensus among the advocates that Medicaid is an essential, lifesaving resource, supporting 10 million Americans with disabilities; accounting for 15% of the total Medicaid population.   Medicaid funding also pays for services and supports that allow people with disabilities to live and work in their communities.

JDAD advocacy efforts will also address support for the IDEA Full Funding Act (H.R. 2902), which would ensure sufficient funding for special education services and level the playing field for children with disabilities by providing them with full access to a quality education.

In Canada, there are 4 key areas of focus that will be discussed with parliamentarians in Ottawa:

  1. Advancing federal inclusion and accessibility legislation.
  2. Prioritizing affordable housing options for people with disabilities.
  3. Revising Canada’s medical inadmissibility policy that prevents people with disabilities and their families from moving to Canada.
  4. Encouraging legislation to remove employment disincentives for people with disabilities.

While the specific legislative advocacy needs are different in both countries, the underlying goal of both days is to bring us back to consensus, as one united continent and one large scale Jewish communal effort.

Individuals with disabilities are a core constituency in both countries. Their contributions to their families, their communities, their schools, their places of employment and most importantly, to themselves – deserves full respect, full access and full inclusion.

There is much in today’s society which separates us – religion, economic access, and political ideology, to name a few barriers. The consensus fostered by the continental Jewish communal response on disability advocacy and inclusion should be celebrated, and applauded as a model for other coalition efforts.

Within Canada, this effort will continue in April 2018 with a Canadian Conference on Inclusion, the first of its kind in Canada, scheduled for April 15th – 17th, 2018 and being held in Toronto, Ontario. Registration information can be found at https://www.jewishcanada.org/pushing-the-boundaries.

And within the US, so many communities are noting Jewish Disabilities and Awareness Inclusion Month with a full range of activities and offerings.  You can learn more by visiting https://inclusioninnovations.com/jdaim/.

Please join us in February and beyond. Find a place for consensus in your communities and take a look around and make a deliberate effort to be sure to include persons with disabilities and their families.

Building awareness opens us up to understanding. Understanding leads to consciousness which leads to change. Our goal is to transform our communities by expand our tent and enabling people of all abilities and disabilities to reach their potential and participate fully.

Our communities deserve no less.

Linda Kislowicz, a former Montrealer, relocated to Toronto in 2006 to assume the position of CEO of JFC-UIA.  As CEO of JFC-UIA she is responsible for the national operations in Canada as well as the operations in Israel.  As an active leader in the field of Jewish communal service for over 40 years, Linda has been instrumental in initiating and leading numerous changes and improvements in the various organizations that she has served. She is dedicated to improving opportunities for individuals, groups and communities to benefit from the collective philanthropic endeavors of our local, national and international organizations. Her areas of expertise are broad and include human services, Jewish identity and Israel engagement and leadership and community development. Prior to serving as the CEO of JFC-UIA, Linda served as Executive Director of the YM-YWHA in Montreal, Executive Director of Jewish Family Services in Montreal.  

Reuben Rotman is the President and CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies. Reuben’s commitment to the field of Jewish communal service has  included operations and professional leadership experiences in Federation and Jewish Family Service organizations in Detroit and New York, as well as as a board member of J-Pro New Jersey. Most recently, Reuben has served as the executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest New Jersey, where he oversaw significant revenue diversification for the agency resulting in marked growth in both annual operating and endowment support, along with an expansion of populations served. Reuben is a member of the board of the national Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies (AJFCA). Prior to joining the JFS of MetroWest, Reuben held positions with the UJA Federation of New York, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and the JFS of Metropolitan Detroit.