A Word of Caution Before Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

Inclusion is a philosophy; Removing the Stumbling Block

Here we are again. We are about to embark on the beginning of yet another Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month; affectionately known by those who love acronyms as JDAIM. There’s a buzz in the Jewish Disability World. Can you feel it? 

JDAIM is an important opportunity to raise awareness while highlighting the many great resources and opportunities that already exist within our communities. I always hope that it will lead to the opening of new doors that were once closed.

Teaching Disability Awareness and Inclusion

black and white chess board with text that reads, "I believe that to make genuine strides toward increased inclusion you must find partners. None of us can do this work on our own." Lisa Friedman, Removing the Stumbling Block

There is a distinct lack of curriculum and resources to teach disability awareness, accessibility, and inclusion in a Jewish setting.

I have experience in developing curriculum for children of all ages. If you are looking to build or enhance your program, please be in touch.

Inclusive Grandparenting - Celebrating ALL Our Grandchildren

collage of images of grandparents, child blowing a shofar, apples and honey, and an open Torah scroll

I recently had the good fortune of presenting a live session with the Jewish Grandparents Network. If you are not yet familiar with this organization, I encourage you to get to know them. The Family Room is a lovely and growing opportunity to explore ideas and resources to strengthen relationships with grandchildren of all ages.

I was thrilled to lead a conversation where we explored ways to enrich relationships with grandchildren through the use of inclusive language, deep learning, and active listening. 

Framed in the Jewish value of b'tzelem elohim (created in the image of God), we discussed celebrating differences and recognizing the potential of every child. It is hard work to honor the spark of God that is in each person we encounter in our lives. Some people make this harder to remember than others. They may try our patience or push our buttons; but I believe this is just more incentive to elevate the connection. Remembering that each of us has a spark of God within us will enrich and strengthen our relationships and all of our interactions with other people.

Inclusion is a mindset – not a program or a classroom or an organization – inclusion is a way of thinking, a way of welcoming and celebrating others, and a way to ensure that all have the opportunity to experience a sense of belonging.

Here are some practical tips for ways you can build more inclusive relationships with grandchildren, both those with and those without, disabilities:

  • Seek to understand differences: Take the opportunity to learn all you can. The more you know, the more empowered you will feel to engage in supportive conversation with your children and grandchildren. 
  • View differences as an integral part, but only one part, of a human being. Help to teach your grandchildren that different is OK.
  • Teach respect, understanding, and dignity to people of all abilities: The best way to do this is by modeling; it can also be through books, films, or other shared learning experiences.
  • Speak to children, not about them.
  • Be vulnerable yourself: Sharing your own challenges and limitations can help you to connect with both your grandchildren and your children and may help to open a deeper dialogue around successes and challenges.
  • Be willing to step in as support: Parenting a child with disabilities is hard work, and your children may appreciate the added support you can offer. Ask them what they need most.
  • Get support for yourself: Grandparenting a child with disabilities may not look like the grandparenting you were expecting. Give yourself the grace and space to accept this as you find ways to create and embrace new expectations.
  • Foster a sense of belonging by treating each grandchild as a respected and valued member of the family. Spend one-on-one time with grandchildren, both those with and those without disabilities. Sometimes children without disabilities need extra support or attention as their parents can be overwhelmed by attending to the needs of their sibling.
  • Above all, rejoice in the joy that is grandparenting!

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Jewish Children's Books with Disabled Characters

three children's books covers: Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles, Sigh Language Shabbat, The Mitten String and the title Jewish Children's Books with Disabled Characters

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It has been some time since I shared a list of books for children with disabled characters.

Representation is a critical component to helping children develop a healthy self-image. 

It’s important for children to experience books that provide mirrors (books where children can identify with the characters) and windows (books where the children can see into the lives of those that are different from them).

There are a lot of great secular books with disabled characters for children of all ages and reading abilities. Here is a long list that I continue to update: Disability Inclusion Book List

It can be harder to find good Jewish-themed children's books with disabled characters, but the list is growing. Here are a few really good ones to add to your library:

The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner "When her family invites a deaf woman and her baby to stay, Ruthie, a talented knitter of mittens, wonders how the mother will know if her child wakes in the night. The surprising answer inspires Ruthie to knit a special gift that offers great comfort to mother and baby—and to Ruthie herself. With language and imagery reminiscent of stories told long ago, this modern Jewish folktale will resonate with those who love crafts, anyone who’s encountered someone with physical differences—and with everyone who has ever lost a mitten in the depths of winter."

Nathan Blows out the Hanukkah Candles by Tami Lehman-Wilzig "Jacob loves his autistic brother, Nathan, but when Hanukkah comes, Jacob worries that Nathan might embarrass him in front of his new friend. What if Nathan blows out the Hanukkah candles?!"

Cakes and Miracles by Barbara Diamond Goldin "Purim is approaching and Hershel, the only blind boy in the village, wishes he could help his mother prepare hamantashen for the holiday. If only I could see, he thinks, I could help my mother more. That night, Hershel dreams of a winged angel descending a sparkling ladder. She says, "Make what you see. You see when you close your eyes. You see in your dreams." With new courage, Hershel learns to trust his dream and creates something more beautiful than anyone in the whole village can imagine."

Sign Language Shabbat by Alisa Greenbacher & Jennifer Rosner "The children in this book sign words for things people do on Shabbat, such as eat challah, drink wine or grape juice, sing Shabbat songs, and (of course!) read books. Shabbat Shalom!"

I'd love to add to my list. Please share your suggestions!

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