Involvement in a religious community can enrich the quality of life for people with disabilities. Likewise, a community is stronger when individuals feel a sense of belonging and their value is celebrated. Yet, despite almost universal agreement in the value of disability inclusion, some congregations struggle to create a culture that welcomes individuals with a vast array of abilities. While there may be physical challenges such as the lack of an entry ramp, no alternate formats of prayer books (i.e. braille or large print), or a lack of assistive listening devices, other challenges involve helping individual members embrace an attitude of welcome and finding ways to communicate that inclusion is a shared community value.
Recognizing a need, UJA-Federation of New York, through generous funding from the Oppenheimer Haas Foundation, implemented the Synagogue Inclusion Project, a program offering a combination of learning experiences, personalized coaching, and network building designed to support congregations as they develop models for successful, sustainable inclusion. The fourteen synagogues of the two participating cohorts have focused on tangibly weaving the inclusion of people with disabilities into the fabric of their communities and are working to become welcoming places where people can live full, spiritual lives, regardless of ability.
As an outgrowth of the Synagogue Inclusion Project, UJA-Federation developed a resource that can be accessed online for congregations interested in growing their capacity for inclusion.
Regardless of where a congregation is in its inclusion journey, the tools shared here can serve as a blueprint for work to be done to move the needle toward becoming a more inclusive community. Included in the guide are detailed examples from congregations that we think will inspire and guide other congregations in this work.
UJA-Federation’s Digital Resource provides practical guidance to congregations seeking to address sustainable inclusion. We encourage synagogues to embark on or continue their own journey towards inclusion, respect and dignity for people of all abilities. To get started, go to https://www.ujafedny.org/get-info/for-synagogues/.
Elisa Blank is SYNERGY Regional Manager and oversees the Synagogue Inclusion Project for UJA-Federation of New York.
Lisa Friedman is an independent consultant serving as the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project