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 torn, really. On the one hand, I really do not want to jump on the Pew Study response bandwagon. If I even the mention the study at this point I run the risk of losing a dozen readers right away. Please, stay with me.
Some are using the research as a call to action. Others are lamenting statements like “The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s” and “Secular or cultural Jews are not only less religious but also much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.” Either way, there is, in my opinion, a distinct mark that has been missed.
If there is any truth to the notion that we, as a people, are contracting, then how can Jewish organizations possibly, or even slightly, turn anyone away?
And yet it is happening. Jews with disabilities are being told, “No, we can’t meet your needs.” Jews with disabilities still struggle to have their voices heard and their needs met. Jews with disabilities want to be valuable, contributing members of our communities and we haven’t yet removed enough barriers to make this a reality. Parents of children with disabilities are still being hushed in services and are still told that their child is too much to handle in religious school.
If we are so worried about the Pew Study and what it means for Jewish identity in America, isn’t it time for us to more fully embrace those who want to be a part of a religious organization? Maybe we should forget chasing the unaffiliated. How about helping our organizations become fully accessible and truly welcoming to everyone who might want to walk through the door?
If we can make this happen, we would all be nothing short of pleased at the ways in which our “numbers” have increased when the next big research study on Jews in America is released.
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/