Since 2009, Jewish communities and organizations have dedicated all kinds of programs, services and events to a specific purpose—to raise awareness that many people who live with a disability or mental health condition are often overlooked, marginalized, treated as mitzvah projects, or are generally absent from Jewish life. The overwhelming growth of JDAIM over the last eleven years means that community institutions acknowledge that there is more they can do to support participation and engagement so that no one who wants to be in is left out.
Often synagogue and community leaders say to me, “We want to be more welcoming of people with disabilities.”
Honestly, every time I hear that an organization wants to be more welcoming, I say to them, “You don’t really mean you want to be more welcoming. You already are welcoming. What leads to encouraging and supporting people with disabilities and mental health conditions to participate is what you really want to be.”
Gone are the days when organizations decide for people what they can do in order to be involved. The portal to a Jewish life doesn’t have two entrances—one for people without disabilities who get to decide what they do, and another for people who are seen by others as unable to make decisions about how they participate because of a disability diagnosis or different way of moving, speaking, hearing, seeing, thinking or any other way of being in the world.
There is only one portal to Jewish life. It’s the one marked, “For all who are created in God’s holy image.”
And on that door is written the word “Welcome.”
When you gather together at services, learning sessions, Torah study, staff, board and committee meetings and at all JDAIM-related programs, ask people what belonging to the Jewish community means to them. Really listen to what people say. They are speaking their truth of what it means to belong.
We all want to be heard. Listen. Just listen. It’s the key to a life of belonging.
To download the 2020 JDAIM Guide, click here.
Shelly directed the award-winning Jewish Community Inclusion Program for People with Disabilities in Minneapolis for thirteen years. She is co-founder and organizer of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and contributes to numerous Jewish and interfaith inclusion initiatives in educational and leadership roles.
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