Allow disabled to participate in Jewish life, speakers urge

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Coalition building and classes are among the ways to make Judaism more inclusive to the disabled, speakers said at The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

The General Assembly in Baltimore last week included a two-day series of speakers and conversations on “Opening Abraham’s Tent” to guide communities.

Rather than introduce new plans, the speakers offered easy and inexpensive steps to include Jews with disabilities. They included joining with other organizations to provide classes and camp programs, finding work and programs for the adult disabled or purchasing Braille prayer books, the speakers said.

However, the speakers stressed, it is not enough to add a wheelchair ramp to the bimah or hold one bar mitzvah celebration for a disabled person. 

“Stop thinking of them as a mitzvah projects. They are us,” Shelly Christensen, founder of Inclusion Innovations Consulting, said of the disabled.

Everyone must “feel the warmth of the tent,” said Dan Guyer, co-chairman of JFNA’s Human Services and Public Policy Disability Committee.

Linda Burger, CEO of Jewish Family Service in Houston, said that if a person with disabilities feels welcome, so does the person’s family and friends.

Becca Hornstein, executive director of Council for Jews with Special Needs in Arizona, presented a guide to creating inclusive communities.

Many of the attendees are involved in inclusion programs throughout the United States and recommended books and programs to each other.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell addressed the group followed by a Jewish Funders Network book launch, and there were several talks on acceptance and welcoming, accessibility and accommodation, and innovative programs.

February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month.

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