JDAMblogs - Blogging Jewish Disability Awareness Month

JDAMblogs: weekly prompts for Jewish Disability Awareness Month

In honor of Jewish Disability Awareness Month (JDAM) I am going to embark on a bit of a project. Inspired by Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the creator of BlogElul, I will do my best to 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. And I would love for you to join me. 

Here’s how to join JDAMblogs:  Tag each blog post you write with JDAMblogs. Use the hashtag #JDAMblogs on Twitter and Facebook. 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. 

But really, there are no rules. You can blog daily, but it’s not required. You can write, draw and share photos or even a make a 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.

Let's make the Jewish Disability Awareness Month tagline a reality: From Awareness to Inclusion!

A Favorite Story of Inclusion

In celebration of my second “Blogiversary”, I share one of my favorite stories:

Inclusion is about more than learning a foreign language; Removing the Stumbling Block

When I first began my tenure at Temple Beth-El over fourteen years ago, there was a student named David in our fifth grade who had a significant learning disability and attention issues. We were invited by David’s parents to the public school district’s annual IEP meeting, where members of the Child Study Team suggested that David not attempt learn a foreign language. He would struggle too significantly, they asserted, and his focus should be on reading and writing English.

Yet this was a notion that just wasn’t acceptable to his parents, who were actively raising their children in a Jewish home, and who wanted David to both learn and love Hebrew, and for him to become a bar mitzvah.

With this goal as our guide, we individualized David’s instruction to meet his specific academic needs and he learned to read Hebrew. His bar mitzvah was a highly meaningful experience as he read from the Torah and led our congregation in prayer. 

But for me, this is where David’s story begins.  

Individualize to meet student needs; Removing the Stumbling Block

I always knew that David could learn Hebrew and become a bar mitzvah; we just needed to meet his learning needs appropriately. For me, what is significant is that David continued his formal Jewish learning beyond his bar mitzvah. When so many drop out, for a vast array of reasons, having students stay by choice is a significant testament to a program that meets their needs. It was truly powerful to sit in the sanctuary as David joined with his peers to reaffirm their commitment to Judaism. David also went on to become an active member of our youth group, serving on its board and becoming an active member in NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth), too. This is the success story! 

Without our flexible approach to individualized learning and our commitment to each and every child’s success, David could well have been that stereotypically frustrated boy who fought coming to Hebrew school. He might have barely finished seventh grade and he certainly would have struggled through the bar mitzvah process. Instead, David’s handsome face shined brightly from our bimah on the evening of his Confirmation. 

If we had listened to David’s Child Study Team, he would have missed out on the richness of his heritage; the joy of learning and living Jewishly. Inclusion is about so much more than whether or not we teach a child a foreign language. We are shaping young Jewish identities and empowering them to live Jewish lives. 

Who’s to say what that should look like?

Inclusion Is Never An Accident

Inclusion Requires Intention; Removing the Stumbling Block

If you are following (I hope you are!) then you probably know that I haven’t blogged too much in the past two months. I could toss out the reasons - “I’ve been busy” and “the holidays were hectic” – and I wouldn’t be lying – but I know (and so do you) that these clich├ęs are a cop out. Everyone is busy. Everyone’s life is hectic.

Prioritize inclusion; Removing the Stumbling BlockThings happen as a matter of prioritizing and making the time, not finding the time.

But before you read into my words that this blog isn’t a priority for me, it’s actually quite the opposite. As I come upon this blog’s two-year anniversary, I can’t help but reflect on the many doors that have opened. I've truly enjoyed the varied opportunities that writing this blog has brought my way – speaking opportunities & presentations, new connections, unique platforms from which to write... And for those who may not know, while I continue to serve as a full-time Educator at my Reform synagogue in NJ, I also joined the Matan team in July as the part-time Manager of Social Media & Alumni Networks. I am grateful for these opportunities, even when they have pulled me away from writing blog posts from time to time.

More significant is the fact that 2014 was also about greater opportunities for the world of Jewish inclusion at large. There seemed to be a rapid uptick in prioritizing inclusion within Jewish communities, schools, camps and organizations. Finally! We read more, we did more and we shared more than ever before. It’s exciting and has me feeling hopeful. The purpose of this blog has always been to help open the doors that might have otherwise remained closed for people with disabilities and their families looking for their place in the Jewish community.

Now here we are with 2015 wide open before us. It’s that time of year when so many are writing and talking about making resolutions. This is frankly something that I struggle with each year because I believe that most resolutions tend to become wishful thinking pretty quickly. Maybe my reticence stems from feeling as though New Year’s is more than a little redundant. After all, as Jews, we’ve already welcomed our new year, and we celebrated Rosh Hashanah after a month of significant reflection and introspection.

And so, how fortunate that I came across a blogging project called One Little Word. The premise is for bloggers to commit to a word that will guide their writing and focus for the year ahead. One word. It feels so much more honest to me than writing resolutions. 

I suppose you are expecting me to choose something like “inclusive” or “belonging”, but as I reflect on the opportunities of the year that has passed and look with excitement toward the possibilities that lie ahead, I find that our journey toward inclusion doesn’t happen by accident. Far from it. 

And so, my word for 2015 is INTENTION.

What’s yours?

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