At its recent plenum convening community, lay and professional leaders from around the country, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs passed its first resolution on inclusion and disabilities in the Jewish community. Founded in 1944, the JCPA creates a network of 16 national and 125 local independent partner Jewish community relations councils. The plenum is the JCPA’s annual, national forum in which members gather to prioritize and gain consensus on key social action issues both within the Jewish community and regarding matters that affect the general population, including poverty, gun control and immigration reform.
According to Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the JCPA, the resolution on inclusion and disabilities was put forward by the JCRC from Pittsburgh and was enthusiastically supported by representatives from all four major Jewish denominations and the national organizationsthat make up JCPA (including Hadassah, the ADL, American Jewish Committee and others).
The resolution addresses the inclusion of people with disabilities in community settings, in regard to education, work and supporting the financial burden that families raising children with disabilities face.
It states, “The work of creating inclusive communities and an open society is not only a matter of resources but also how we think about people who have disabilities – and the potential for positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities is significant.&rdquo
For Gutow, there was no question that this resolution should be passed. He noted his own personal experiences connected to people living with disabilities, remembering the inspiring experience of attending the Bar Mitzvah of his great-nephew who has autism. He also recalls times as a congregational rabbi when he visited a congregant who had MS and acknowledged the difficulties that person faced in trying to attend community events.
“If we don’t reach out, we make our society disabled,” he says. “We need to open the doors to people who have disabilities so that our society can be rich and whole.”
For over half a century, the JCPA has served as an effective mechanism to identify issues, formulate policy, develop strategies and programs, and has given expression to a strongly united Jewish communal voice. By passing this resolution on inclusion and disability, they are moving forward a national dialogue in the organized Jewish community that crosses denominations, missions and geography.
“A resolution like this can get the ball rolling. It opens the community in a real way to recognizing the problem as a major obstacle to the Jewish community fulfilling its mission to include all Jews, to helping America and the world open their arms to all people. The challenge now is where we go from here. The door is open. Will we walk through it?” Gutow said.