I had an interesting exchange with the social media/communications manager of an organization almost solely dedicated to the advancement of inclusion for individuals with disabilities in Jewish life. He was pulling together a “best of” article to highlight posts from the #JDAMblogs effort. (Of course I was more than pleased to share a couple of my own). However, I was commenting that I was pleased to see that there were nearly 50 articles linked up to my original #JDAMblogs post. His reply, “Yes, but they always seem to come from the same people and the same sources. How do we widen the net?”
In and of itself, I had hoped that the #JDAMblogs effort might have brought the awareness to a slightly different level; but maybe not. Or maybe not enough. Have we widened the net? Are new voices joining the conversations about Jewish disability awareness? Or is it the same few who have just gotten a little bit louder? And is that so terrible? Maybe…
I was recently leading a family education program in my synagogue school, and as a part of our wrap-up with the parents, we were having a conversation about finding ways to help our children to live in Jewish time. As we were close to running out of time, I quickly commented that I would be remiss if I didn’t say how sending our children to Jewish camp gives them the gift of living fully in Jewish time. Yet, as I was speaking, the mother next to me was mouthing my words as I said them. And although we chuckled and I made a joke about knowing that I may seem like a broken record, the rabbi jumped in to reinforce that it is a record we have to keep playing.
And he’s right. He is so very right. We don’t stop “singing the song” just because everyone knows the words. But I have been wondering lately if my words and messages about the value of Jewish summer camp have become almost like wallpaper to my congregation: “Oh there’s Lisa, talking about Jewish summer camp again…”
Don’t worry, I won’t stop. I will continue to shout from every rooftop and whisper in every ear about the powerful impact of Jewish summer camp.
But could we be seeing this same phenomenon in the world of Jewish disability awareness? Are those of us who speak the loudest and most often becoming the “wallpaper of inclusion”? And even if we are broken records, are we not obligated to keep playing nonetheless? I know the answer is yes. But are there enough rabbis (and cantors, and educators, and parents, and self-advocates…) who jump in to support us and tell us to keep playing the record? There is no doubt that the impact of my words about camp at the end of that family program would not have been quite as valuable had the rabbi not been there with me, sharing my philosophy, values and vision. I am lucky, to be sure. But I also work at this. I work in partnership with my rabbi and colleagues and lay leadership every day to ensure that our work reflects our shared vision about Jewish camp, about inclusion and about so much more.
And so, this brings me back to my original point; how do we widen the net? How do we avoid situations where members of our community hear or think about disabilities and inclusion and automatically assume that the inclusion specialist or coordinator will “handle it”? How do we move to a place where it is a part of all of our conversations; easily, naturally and obviously? How do we make sure that there are those near us who will say that we must keep “singing the inclusion song” because it is that important?