Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer directs Jewish Learning Venture’s Whole Community Inclusion which fosters inclusion of people with disabilities through the Philadelphia Jewish community. She loves writing/editing for “The New Normal” and for WHYY’s newsworks. Her latest book The Little Gate Crasher is a memoir of her Great-Uncle Mace Bugen, a self-made millionaire and celebrity selfie-artist who was 43 inches tall and was chosen for this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month Book Selections. She’s recently shared an ELI Talk on Standing With Families Raising Kids With Disabilities and has released a journal designed for special needs parents.
On Monday, October 19, 2015, UJA-Federation of New York hosted a day of learning for synagogue professionals and lay leaders to discuss, share and learn from experts and each other on how to make synagogues more open and welcoming to people with disabilities. The workshop was an opportunity to build skills and to learn about new innovative models to make synagogues more accessible and inclusive to all. The program included presentations from professionals from RespectAbility USA, The Jewish Inclusion Project, the URJ and Ramapo for Children, learning from a compelling self-advocate working in a synagogue community, as well as time for round-table discussions and brainstorming sessions with synagogue professionals leaders and topic experts.
Nearly 50 participants attended, representing about 30 synagogues and all denominations – Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative and unaffiliated.
Take-aways from the day include:
Sharing helps everyone: So often, synagogue leaders work in their own silos. At Sharefest, everyone was able to learn from communities who have been trying new ways to include people with disabilities and leaders were able to consider their successes and struggles.
Educator training is essential: We want synagogue schools, camps and youth groups to be inclusive of children and teens with disabilities–but educators need tools to do so. Rachel Lissy from Ramapo for Children shared her toolbox for inclusion.
It's not only children: At roundtable discussions, there was a focus on serving adults who have disabilities–a population who can be overlooked.
Resources are available: One break-out session was lead by Rabbi Edythe Mencher who shared about the URJ's new online Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center–which is open for everyone to use and features webinars with inclusion experts.
Listen to Self-advocates: It's essential to include people with disabilities in sharing about their experiences–during seminars like this one and on our synagogue inclusion committees.