Lisa Friedman is a widely recognized expert in Jewish disability inclusion. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey, where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. She is also the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project. Lisa consults with congregations, schools, camps and other organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy and families through dialogue, interactive workshops, and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics and blogs about disabilities and inclusion at "Removing the Stumbling Block."
If you read a lot of blogs and articles, particularly those focused on disability inclusion, it may seem like there a lot of “shoulds." This is how you should treat people with disabilities; this is how you should speak about people with disabilities; this is how you should include people with disabilities.
Maybe you read these “shoulds” and they spark within you an idea of a possibility and you are inspired to make a change. Or maybe you read them and find yourself feeling guilty.
In this month of Elul, you have the beautiful opportunity to reflect on what you are already doing and what challenges still lie ahead of you. This month we make teshuvah (literally returning to one’s self, repentance) and it is a chance to change, to grow and to do more. I hope that rather than feel guilt, you think about what is possible. Elul brings with it an opportunity for forgiveness. This is the time to forgive yourself and, as you move forward, find ways to add new elements of inclusion into your daily practice.
Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities in your congregation. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities in your school. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities in your community. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Maybe you are not yet consistently using inclusive language. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Maybe you shy away from people with disabilities for fear of saying the wrong thing. Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Maybe you aren’t actively teaching those around you to be accepting of disabilities. Forgive yourself and move forward.
And, as you forgive, know that you can do more. It’s okay if you are not there yet.
Forgive yourself, and move forward.
Lisa Friedman is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She oversees an extensive inclusive special needs program within the religious school, with programs designed to help students learn about their Jewish heritage, feel connected to their Jewish community and successfully learn Hebrew. Lisa is also the Manager of Social Media and Alumni Networks for Matan. Lisa writes her own blog about her experiences in Jewish special education: http://jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com/