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."
I’m not usually one for resolutions. I find that despite good intentions, I typically revise or abandon one, if not most, of my resolutions by the end of January. Maybe it’s because, as a Jew, New Year’s feels a little redundant. We’ve already welcomed our new year, and the celebration of Rosh Hashanah follows a month of reflection and introspection.
Nonetheless, when something significant comes to an end there is a valuable opportunity to think deeply about what was accomplished while looking ahead with renewed commitment and optimism.
Inclusion Resolutions for 2014:
1. Practice what you preach.
We each must lead by example. Talking the talk of inclusion is good, but if we don’t also walk the walk, our great intentions are for naught.
2. Keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
Inclusion is most successful when committed advocates push the boundaries of what others think is possible. Continue to speak out, make waves and create new opportunities.
3. Expand your networks, continue your learning.
Many have already discovered the rich potential of building a Personal Leaning Network (PLN) on Twitter or other social media. (Learn more about this concept here and follow me). Taking the opportunity to study for its own sake – torah lishma – is a meaningful way to grow and expand in expertise and practice.
In a few short weeks there will be an increased buzz in the Jewish Disability World. February first will mark the start of the fifth annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month; affectionately known by those of us who love acronyms as JDAM. Just as the name implies, it can be a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness in our various organizations and synagogues while also highlighting great resources and opportunities that exist within our communities. Hopefully it also leads to the opening of new doors that were once closed.
But before the hoopla and the celebrations and the congratulatory pats on the back for great programs and events, I want to ask you to maintain focus and remember that in and of itself, JDAM is not inclusion. No one program is inclusion. Inclusion is a mindset, which is stated perfectly in this quote from the American Camp Association:
We must understand that inclusion is first and foremost a philosophy. It is a mindset and a belief that everyone has value and something to contribute. It is a willingness to see the ability in everyone and match skill with challenge. It is an understanding that what our programs really provide at their heart is the opportunity to build relationships, learn who we are, and develop skills. It is being committed to the process of making our programs accessible — not only in the physical sense, but also by ensuring that each person’s participation is meaningful… Once we understand that inclusion is not a place, a program, or a time-limited opportunity, and that it is a state of being and a way of operating that says “all are welcome,” we can overcome the practical barriers of resources, knowledge, and accessible facilities.
So let’s plan and share the many wonderful events taking place in February, but let’s also keep our focus. Ben Azzai taught: “Despise no one and call nothing useless. For there is no thing that does not have its place and no person whose hour does not come.” [Pirkei Avot 4:3]
Lisa Friedman is the Education Co-Director at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She oversees an extensive 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. Additionally, Lisa facilitates conversations about inclusion throughout the synagogue as whole and helps the congregation to shape its best practices. Lisa writes a blog about her experiences in Jewish special education: http://jewishspecialneeds.blogspot.com/