Jewish professionals (educators, rabbis, cantors, youth directors, camp professionals, etc.) feel great pride when “one of their own” goes on to a career in the Jewish world. I know that I am thrilled when “kids” we have raised in our congregation come back to teach in our Religious School. And when asked, most Jewish professionals will cite meaningful Jewish experiences such as camp, trips to Israel or youth group participation as well as specific relationships that they formed with “their” rabbi, educator or youth director as the reason why they pursued a Jewish professional life.
And so I continue to feel proud that we are, at my synagogue, giving all children and teens the opportunity to have those experiences and build those relationships.
But there have been quite a few discussions of late about the lack of employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It’s disconcerting, really. Jay Ruderman recently wrote:
“The American Association of People With Disabilities recently reported that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice the national average. During the recession, people with disabilities lost jobs five times faster than people without disabilities. In addition, only 25 percent of people with disabilities are meaningfully employed, while 75 percent are unemployed or underemployed. Contrary to popular belief, this in large part is not due to a lack of desire or capability to work.”
That individuals who are otherwise capable, qualified and eager to work are denied opportunity based solely on disability is infuriating.
So, of course, I return to the Jewish world. It’s clear to me that the only way that individuals with disabilities will find jobs in the Jewish world is if they have access to the same education, experiences and relationships as everyone else. The following, written by Rabbi Lynne Landsberg in an article for the NY Jewish Week's blog on disability issues, illustrates this point:
“It would be very hard for our communities to discriminate if the job seekers presented outstanding Jewish resumes. But the only way that Jews with disabilities can build such resumes is by being offered a great Jewish education, beginning at an early age and continuing through Jewish schools of higher learning.”
When we open the doors to our synagogues and religious schools and when we make camp, youth groups and Israel trips accessible; are we then equipped to make Jewish professional life a reality? Our colleges and graduate programs must teach accessibility and inclusion while being accessible and inclusive. And then there must be accessible and inclusive jobs in the Jewish world.