Sometimes it can seem, or we’d like to think, that the Jewish community is a Lake Wobegon of sorts, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Of course, we know that so many of us are hardly that, and too many of our children, despite all our love and prayers, are special or unique in ways that can be more difficult, and more demanding of parents. Ideally, the community would respond to those with special needs. According to one estimate, up to 20 percent of the Jewish community has some disability or special need.
We are a community — a family, we’d like to think — and including those with disabilities and special needs, requires a philanthropic understanding all its own.
Next week, Dec. 6, will see the convening here of the Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funding Conference, in cooperation with the Jewish Funders Network, at Baruch College. It will be a coming together of funders “from around the Jewish world who are passionate about the field of special needs and disabilities,” according to the conference website. Last year’s conference, the first, attracted about 125 funders and nonprofit officials, more than twice the expected number, indicative of the truth that far more families are touched by this and far more funders are eager to help and to become more familiar with some of the innovative programs and opportunities that already exist. This year’s conference will see an increase in participants.
We are pleased to see this issue widening and deepening, involving foundations and donors beyond those who have a special needs family member.
Anita Altman, a UJA-Federation of New York official who has worked tirelessly within the organization to raise communal consciousness on the issue, hopes that this conference “is an indicator of what I hope is a sea change in the Jewish community in terms of us recognizing our obligations as a community to people with disabilities and their families. Our definition of community includes everybody.”
That definition should be shared by us all.