How Can You Tell if Your Community is Inclusive?

Have you ever had a teen look at you with that look of “duh” on his or her face? You know, the look that says, “Why are we even having this conversation? I know it all already!” The look that’s usually mixed with that subtle (or not so subtle) hint of adolescent arrogance that is intended to make you feel just a little inferior for even having opened the conversation.

I love teens. I mean I really love them. Nothing gives me greater joy than being surrounded by teens. They think they know everything but deep down know they have so much more to learn. They think they are invincible but are afraid to ever admit they feel vulnerable. I love them. And their angst.

And so when I got a room full of “duh” earlier this week, I couldn't have been happier.

You see, I was teaching a lesson on the Jewish values surrounding disability inclusion. I shared an interactive activity that engaged them in a way that is meant to mirror the frustrations some feel in learning situations, while allowing them to engage with our texts.

Jewish inclusion text activity, Removing the Stumbling Block

And here is what I learned: While fun (the kids told me they liked it) I observed this collective sense of “duh”. As in, “Why are we doing this, Lisa? We get inclusion.”

Yes, yes they do. Their attitudes and their body language showed me what I already knew and confirmed what I hoped was true. Inclusion is a value that is ingrained in who we are as an inclusive congregation and it’s just a seamless part of what we do. It's honestly never been a question for these kids. They have never wondered why, because it just is. So an intentional lesson to explore the Jewish value of inclusion was just a little bit lost on them. How cool is that?

So there you go. You know how to tell if you have a truly inclusive community? When everyone can look at you with a collective sense of “duh” and think, of course we are!

Empowering Teens to be Inclusive of People with Disabilities

NFTY teens studying disability inclusion, Removing the Stumbling Block

Two of the things I am most passionate about in my professional life are disability inclusion and Jewish teens. Can you begin to imagine my excitement when these two things come together?

It happened! Not only did I have the good fortune of presenting a disability inclusion workshop at the NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) Convention in Atlanta, Georgia; it was to a standing-room only group of teens. We should follow their lead – they are ready to make change!

First, we explored some definitions of inclusion:

Define inclusion in three words or less, Removing the Stumbling Block
Read more about this activity here: Define Inclusion in Three Words or Less

Then we explored the Jewish imperative as to WHY we must be inclusive (despite not being held to the same legal obligations as secular organizations). These teens blew me away with their thoughtful and varied responses to an activity based on Jewish texts:

I love leading sessions like this. It is truly a thrill to empower our future leaders to take these conversations home and make real change in their communities.

But I would be remiss if I did not point out the one aspect that made this workshop stand out from all the others I have done. This time my co-presenter was a high school senior from my own congregation, Max Friedman. (I love how he introduces himself, by the way: “Yes, we have the same last name. No, we aren’t related. But [since she runs my religious school] she's like my second mother because she helped raise me.)

I’m deeply proud of our congregation for its ongoing commitment to inclusion. We are a community that recognizes that inclusion is a part of who we are and that being inclusive must be a seamless and natural part of everything we do. And yet even as I know this, experiencing it first hand is a joy. There is no small amount of pride in knowing that I helped to teach this value to such a poised young man who is now empowered to teach it to others. 

Way to go, Max. You've done us all proud!

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