The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) will build on the successful launch of the Ruderman Inclusion Action Community initiative to transform Conservative congregations into truly inclusive communities for people with disabilities, thanks to continuing support from the Ruderman Family Foundation (RFF) in the form of a $375,000 three-year grant.
Through the grant, USCJ will continue to provide expertise and consulting to its affiliated congregations to develop comprehensive visions and action plans on inclusion.
This effort aims to create congregations in which the community culture supports all aspects of inclusion – from the entryway to the bima, from education programs to prayer services, from social activities to the very attitudes of congregants and leaders – allowing people with disabilities and their families to participate fully and comfortably in congregational life.
“This past year, USCJ’s partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation has shown that a concerted effort such as this one can make inclusion a spiritual and programmatic reality,” said USCJ CEO Rabbi Steve Wernick. “The Hebrew word for inclusion, hachlala, is related to vayachulu, the word used to signify the completion of creation. In the same way that creation was not complete until Shabbat was included, our kehillot are not complete until all people are included.”
The partnership with USCJ is a part of the Foundation’s commitment to disability inclusion within the Conservative movement. However, as Jewish communities across North America celebrated Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) the Ruderman Family Foundation is also striving to make all Jewish life, regardless of movement or affiliation, fully inclusive, with multi-year, multi-million dollar commitments to other denominations inside Judaism, such as the Reform Movement, Chabad Lubavich and the Orthodox Union
“Disability inclusion is an issue not just confined to one movement or denomination, it’s an issue that has no borders and we see great importance in working with every movement inside Jewish life,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “We’re honored to partner with The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the Ruderman Inclusion Action Community initiative to further this important work in the Conservative movement. I have been impressed by the passion and dedication with which USCJ has embraced our partnership. They realize that a congregation that does not include people with disabilities and their families risks losing roughly a quarter of the community and we simply cannot afford to turn away such a large segment.”
Sixteen USCJ-affiliated congregations, from across North America, participated in the 2014/2015 Ruderman Inclusion Action Community, led by Inclusion Specialist Ed Frim. The partnership will now support action communities for each of the three years of the grant of up to 20 congregations that demonstrates interest and readiness to study and work intensively on developing a realistic blueprint for change. The materials and learning from the first cohort and this new group will be shared with other congregations in the USCJ network, thereby multiplying the impact of the core group’s work.
Miles Kirschner, Immediate Past President and Chair of the Inclusion Task Force at Beth El Congregation in Pittsburgh, PA said, “Beth El has, for many years, been advocating on many fronts for those with special needs. But to rest on our laurels was a risk we could not take and the Ruderman Inclusion Action Community was the incentive we needed to take a closer look at our entire kehilla. There is always room for improvement regardless of how well we feel we’ve been doing and this process has emphasized that for us.”
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is a community of North American kehillot (congregations) committed to a dynamic Judaism that is learned and passionate, authentic and pluralistic, joyful and accessible. USCJ creates the spiritual, intellectual, and managerial network that empowers our kehillot to fulfill their sacred mission and connects them with a common sense of community, shared mission and purpose. To learn more, visitwww.uscj.org.
Guided by Jewish values, the Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing community. Its mission is to support effective programs, innovative partnerships and a dynamic approach to philanthropy in the following areas: advocating for and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Jewish community; fostering a more nuanced understanding of the American Jewish community among Israeli leaders; and modeling the practice of strategic philanthropy worldwide.