Introducing #JDAMblogs – Blogging About Jewish Disability Awareness Month 2014

February 1, 2014 will mark the beginning of the sixth annual Jewish Disability Awareness Month. JDAM is designed to be a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide.

Since taking the leap into the world of blogging a little over one year ago, I have been sharing stories and strategies as a way to bring more attention to the value of inclusion in Jewish life.

This year, one of my JDAM contributions will be to embark on a bit of a project. Inspired by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the creator of #BlogElul, I will share a daily blog post throughout the month of February to help bring awareness to the significant value of including Jews with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life. I may write a “how-to” or share a success story, I will probably discuss an experience or two as they unfold, and I might reflect on a struggle or a goal not yet met. I may even introduce a guest post or two. And I would love for you to join me.  

Here’s how:  Tag each blog post you write with #JDAMblogs. Visit my blog again on February 1 where I will include an opportunity for you to link up your blog and share your posts with others. Tweet me and tag me on Facebook so that I can promote as many of these posts as possible. 

There are no prompts and no rules. You can blog daily, but it’s not required. You can write, draw and share photos or even video.  You don’t have to be an inclusion expert or a Jewish Educator or even a Jewish professional to contribute. In fact, I hope that parents, loved ones and self-advocates will participate. You don’t even have to be Jewish! EVERY voice matters. Isn’t that the point, after all?  All you really need is a desire to contribute in some way. Blog once, or blog every day.  Tweet. Share a Facebook status. Share your voice.

Together we can make the Jewish Disability Awareness Month tagline a reality: From Awareness to Inclusion!

Celebrating One Year of Blogging!

Today I celebrate one year of blogging about the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in Jewish life.  What a wonderful, enriching and unexpected journey it has been.

This past year I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer, an advocate and as an Educator. I have grown in my personal commitment to serving ALL students and have met some amazing people who are equally as committed to the value of inclusion as I am along the way.

I hope that I have helped to raise awareness of the need for more inclusive synagogues and Jewish organizations. I hope that I have inspired others to think more deeply and take action to bring change to their organizations. 

Looking ahead, there are exciting things on the horizon. I am honored that my writing has been recognized nationally and has led to new opportunities as a speaker and consultant.  I look forward to more such possibilities and appreciate all of the support and encouragement to pursue this aspect of my career. Please be in touch if you wish to have me present at an upcoming conference, lead professional development workshops in your school or speak to the leadership of your organization about how to grow your inclusive practice.

Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) is just around the corner. February is a nationally recognized opportunity to engage in conversations that can move us from raising awareness to fully including individuals with disabilities in our Jewish communities.

I am committing to blog daily during the month of February and invite you to join me. Similar to the BlogElul effort, which was designed as a way to mobilize the use of social media as a tool or reflection and inspiration, I will use #JDAMblogs to bring greater attention to both JDAM and discussions of Jewish inclusion.  Even if you can’t commit to writing daily, I hope you will join me. And you don't even have to be Jewish!

In addition, I will be hosting a LIVE Twitter chat to discuss “Hope Will Find You” by Rabbi Naomi Levy.  This is the JDAM Reads! selection for 2014. Read the book and join me on Thursday, February 13 at 9pm EST with #JDAMreads14.

Thank you all for reading, encouraging, commenting and sharing. Here’s to year number two!

Let's Make it So - Reflections from the @URJ #Biennial13

The Union for Reform Judaism’s 2013 Biennial was, by far, the most accessible Biennial I have ever attended. I was pleased to note an intentional effort that included having a designated URJ staff member oversee the efforts from planning through to on-site accommodations, publicizing the efforts widely, training volunteers and significant signage to demonstrate accessibility. True leadership involves practicing what we preach and leading by example, so this Biennial was, in my opinion, a small leap in the right direction.

To further demonstrate the commitment to including those with disabilities in all aspects of Jewish life, top members of the URJ staff spoke about inclusion and accessibility. From his address to the full convention, Rabbi Rick Jacobs stated, “And then there are Jews with disabilities, where we pay lip service to inclusion, but too often fail to take real action. Up to 20% of our population is living with some kind of disability at any given time…Inclusion is a lot more than changing physical structures and facilities. A ramp is just a sloped sidewalk if stigma and prejudice get in the way…And I’ll tell you something else: when we do, when we open our doors – and more, our hearts and minds – and say, “Come in, we need you,” we will have new talent and energy beyond our wildest dreams. Al tistakel b’kankan, warned our sages – don’t look at the bottle, ela b’mah sheyesh bo, but at what is inside it. Inside those people whom we exclude is another great gift, another opportunity of a lifetime just waiting for us.”

I am hopeful.  I hope that Rabbi Jacob’s words become a charge; a charge to do more than we are doing now, a charge to make real and lasting change.  I hope that the Union for Reform Judaism will continue to lead by example and support the efforts of those who work in and care deeply about congregational life.

The exciting announcement of a three-year partnership with the Ruderman Family Foundation adds to my sense of optimism.  As leaders in philanthropy and advocacy for individuals with disabilities in Jewish life, RFF brings experience to a partnership which is intended to guide the 900 congregations in our movement ever closer to full inclusion.

I think we have reached a tipping point, finally, and that we have come to place where each and every one of us will be able to say, “Teach me how.” We are off to an amazing start.  Let’s make it so.

2014 Resolutions to Promote Meaningful Inclusion

I’m not usually one for resolutions.  I find that despite good intentions, I typically revise or abandon one, if not most, of my resolutions by the end of January. Even when I was young and had to write resolutions as a school assignment, I had a tough time coming up with ideas. I typically stuck with clich├ęs like “be nicer to my brother”, “clean my room” and “listen to my parents”.

Maybe this is because, as a Jew, New Year’s feels a little redundant. We’ve already welcomed our new year, and the celebration of Rosh Hashanah follows a month of reflection and introspection.

Nonetheless, when something significant comes to an end there is a valuable opportunity to think deeply about what was accomplished while looking ahead with renewed commitment and optimism. So, I’m leaving the past in the past and giving it a shot. 

Here are my 2014 Resolutions to Promote Meaningful Inclusion:

  1. Practice what I preach:
We each must lead by example. Talking the talk of inclusion is good, and those of us who blog are particularly adept at it, but if we don’t also walk the walk, our great intentions are for naught. 

  1. Keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible:
Inclusion is most successful when committed advocates push the boundaries of what others think is possible. I will continue to speak out, make waves and create new opportunities. 

  1. Expand my network, continue my learning:
It is widely accepted that the best educators are the ones who are actively engaged in advancing their own learning. I've discovered the rich potential of becoming a connected educator and growing my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter (Learn more about this concept and follow me: @JewishSpecialEd).

  1. Seek and embrace new opportunities:
I am grateful for the many opportunities that have come my way since starting this blog. I’ve been published in a variety of places, been invited to speak at conferences and have even been interviewed on a popular inclusion podcast! I am looking forward to more in the coming year.

Ben Azzai taught: “Despise no one and call nothing useless. For there is no thing that does not have its place and no person whose hour does not come.” Pirkei Avot 4:3

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