The growing move for inclusion in the Jewish community got a big push this week with the launch of a $100,000 prize from the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Named for Jay Ruderman’s father, the co-founder of healthcare technology company Meditech, the first Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion went to Michael Stein, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School who co-founded the school’s Project on Disability, the foundation announced on Jan. 27.
The annual prize is the foundation’s first to an individual and one of the biggest such prizes in the Jewish world: the Charles Bronfman prize for humanitarian work and the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature also award $100,000 and the Genesis Prize gives $1 million to an individual who“will inspire the next generation of Jews.”
“People pay attention to these things when there’s numbers involved, and that’s why people do prizes, in general,” Ruderman said. “Our philanthropy is a combination of advocacy and funding. Our strategy is to be very public, very out there.”
Its trustees selected Stein after a three-person nominating committee identified a group of candidates who had contributed to the inclusion of people with disabilities in both the Jewish world and in broader society.
Stein, who uses a wheelchair, participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and has served as legal counsel to Rehabilitation International, Disabled Peoples’ International and Special Olympics International. He also advises United Nations bodies, such as UNICEF.
Founded in 2004, the project trains human rights advocates, provides technical assistance on the drafting of laws, provides technical advice to international economic development organizations and does pro bono work for people with disabilities and their organizations.
Stein’s life’s work exemplifies the values cherished by Ruderman’s father, who thought a lot about equity and who was and wasn’t treated fairly and who believed that the Jewish community excluded people with disabilities, Ruderman said.
“I know my father would have liked [Stein],” he added.
A native of Manhattan, Stein was raised Orthodox and attended a yeshiva day school.
The award, Stein said, is an example of kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh, or all of Israel is responsible for one another, and an acknowledgement that the Jewish community has much work to do regarding the inclusion of people with disabilities.
The foundation based the award on Stein’s past accomplishments and doesn’t require him to do anything specific in return.
But the nominating committee and trustees also tried to give the prize to someone who has the potential to make future contributions and Stein’s disability work in Israel and elite legal credentials will enable him to facilitate the Jewish community’s inclusion efforts, Ruderman said.
Securing the commitment of highly qualified advocates like him and the award’s future winners is another reason to give such a prize.
“He is willing to be a key resource to the Jewish community,” Ruderman said. “He is a good bridge.”