Inclusion is NOT Social Action

Inclusion is NOT Social Action; Removing the Stumbling Block

I feel very strongly about the notion that while all of our programs, classrooms, and worship opportunities should be inclusive, inclusion itself is not a program. It’s not a one-time workshop or training session. Inclusion is an attitude, it is something that is just naturally woven into the fabric of what we do. At least it should be.

I was reminded of something significant that I have learned from one of my mentors in the world of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion. Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, Senior Advisor on Disability Issues at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, taught that "Inclusion is NOT social action." And yet, all too often, congregations do not know where to "put" their conversations (if they are even having them!) about inclusion, so they fit them under the umbrella of social action. 

There is a distinct problem with this.  

By definition, social action stems from the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. There is no doubt that we all need to work together to bring real and lasting change to our world, particularly around the conversation of inclusion. But typically, in congregational life, social action is the term we use to describe the "projects" that benefit others. We do not "do" inclusion "for" people with disabilities. Rather, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how everything we would have done anyway, can be inclusive. See the difference??

Need more?

Preparing food for your local shelter = social action.
Planting a garden as a sustainable food source = social action.

Inviting residents of a local group home to Shabbat dinner, NOT social action.


Hosting a bake sale to raise money for Special Olympics = social action.
Attending the Special Olympics to cheer for a member of your congregation, NOT social action.

Inclusion as social action perpetuates stereotypes; Removing the Stumbling Block

Thinking of inclusion as a function of your social action committee perpetuates stereotypes and devalues the significance of any effort you might otherwise bring forward.

So have the conversations. Invite individuals with disabilities to be a part of those conversations. And then maybe together you can all plan a social action event.

I appreciate that the editors at Thinking Person's Guide to Autism cross-posted this article.

6 comments:

  1. WOW, WOW, WOW!!!! This post blew me away!!!! You are right! Inclusion should happen anyway! No one should get applause for it or a pat on the back for it. It's the right thing to do. I get it. Your work is compelling and I might need to contact you in the future. I am a Christian having a difficult time with my child at church but you are right! All of our kids have the right to learn the Torah, the Bible, anything. Thank you so much for this post.

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    1. I am so glad that this was meaningful for you. I am honored to help people to see beyond their experiences and to discover what is possible. It is the responsibility of all people of faith to reach out, welcome and embrace all who wish to be a part of the community. I hope that you have a wonderful Easter and look forward to connecting in the future.

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  2. Amazing! Exactly! We are to honor, respect, and embrace all image bearers!

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  3. Thank you Lisa, I will definitely keep you contact info close at hand.

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  4. You really had me until that "start an Inclusion Committee". Isn't the whole point that inclusion should be the attitude that runs through ALL the committees? If it will be a distinct committee, then there is no reason for it NOT to be the social action committee. Let us do Tikkun Olam by raising awareness for the Children's Activities committee, the Synagogue Practices committee, the Hesed Committee, etc. etc. etc. Let each committee reflect on how its practices can be more inclusive.

    Have you seen this:
    http://zehlezeh.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/the-inclusion-confession/
    ?

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    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly - inclusion is an attitude that "should" carry through all that we do. That said, for a congregation that may be struggling to find the right starting point, an Inclusion Committee that can guide the conversations is far more beneficial than "dumping" this onto Social Action as a default. My point is that inclusion is what we do, not a social action program unto itself (about which we agree!)

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and Rebecca's wonderful Zeh Lezeh piece (she is a friend and our daughters go to camp together). Best wishes for a meaningful holiday.

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